Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha insists that he has no doubts that he belongs on the international stage.
The 20-year-old winger who is yet to play in the top flight was included to Roy Hodgson’s England squad this week after a spate of withdrawals for the friendly against Sweden on Wednesday night and Zaha has no reservations about appearing on the big stage.
“Unless I’m looking at (Cristiano) Ronaldo or (Lionel) Messi, I’d never look at someone else and think he’s better than me,” Zaha told the Daily Mail.
One of the hottest properties in England, Zaha came through Crystal Palace’s apprenticeship programme in 2011 and has made ninety-eighty appearances for the Eagles scoring 14 goals.
And days after celebrating his 20th birthday (which fell on Saturday) he recognises that he will need to play in the Premier League in the near future if he is to fulfil his bold boast of being one of the world’s best players.
“I think about the Premier League all the time, wondering when I’m going to come up against better defenders,” he said.
“I don’t think I’ve come up against a defender when I’ve thought, what can I do to get past this guy?”
“If it was Ashley Cole I would be working it all out before the game, knowing he would stick tight to me. I’d drift inside and then run at him.”
“Maybe he’ll be able to deal with it, but that’s when I can test him, isn’t it? That’s my time.”
“If someone’s on my back I’ll stand on the ball and put it in a position where the guy behind me can’t see it, then I can roll him whichever way I want.”
While Zaha’s confidence in his own ability is without question he still has a long way to go to equal the achievements of some of those that have gone before him.
By the same age Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen had terrorised Premier League back-line’s for three years. Rooney, English football’s marquee name and one of the players whose withdrawal prompted Zaha’s elevation to the senior squad had also earned twenty-seven caps for his country scoring 10 goals.
While Owen had reached seventeen caps and scored five times by the same milestone. Both had also picked up a string of domestic and international accolades.
Owen was named The PFA’s Young Player of the Year and The Premier League’s Player of the Season, while an 18 year-old at Liverpool after a scintillating season in which he won the Golden Boot.
Rooney who started his career on the other side of Merseyside at Everton captured the imagination at Euro 2004 where he was named in the Team of the Tournament before going on to pick up the PFA’s Young Player of the Year and FIFPro World Young Player of the Year during 2004-05 in his twentieth year.
Named the Football League’s Young Player of the Year, in March, Zaha clearly has plenty to do to emulate and surpass the achievements of Rooney and Owen.
Yet his dedication, which was clearly evident as he talked about a summer spent working through a core stability and conditioning programme combined with spells refining his skills by playing against friends with a tennis ball, could one day see him reach the heady heights of Ronaldo, Messi at al.