Wilfried Zaha will take a lot of criticism for the way he played for England’s Under-21 side in Israel but his flop was explainable and predictable.
Zaha went to the Under-21 European Championship with a hell of a lot of weight on his shoulders.
Here was the new high profile winger of English football, going into a tournament against some of Europe’s finest players having just played a big role in helping Crystal Palace secure Premier League promotion.
He’s a Manchester United player now but it’s important to take stock of his situation in and around the tournament if you’re a worried supporter bound to Old Trafford.
Football is a game full of highs and the first thing to point out is that Zaha was probably still coming down from the high of what he did with Crystal Palace.
He got Palace into the Championship play-off final against Watford almost by himself, with two key goals against Brighton in the semi-final tie.
That started to whip up publicity and expectation related to how he would play when he eventually went to Old Trafford. A topic of some magnitude that any young player would think about regardless of whether they were going to play for their country.
Then we have the tournament itself to consider and it’s important to point out that Zaha was injured for the first game, the narrow defeat to Italy so he can’t be judged in that respect.
It’s also understandable why he seemed to lack a lot of punch in England’s next two games against Norway and Israel.
This is a 20-year-old that before the tournament had played 55 games in all competitions, putting him up there in terms of appearances with some of the Chelsea players who faced nearly 70 games last season.
It’s therefore only understandable that he would suffer physically as a result because he’s still growing and developing as a young male.
Compare that number of appearances with someone like Jonjo Shelvey of Liverpool who had made just 41 appearances throughout the season before the tournament or Connor Wickham who led the attack of the side having played just 31 games last season.
Those are two players who would have been hoping to use the tournament as a way to revitalise their club careers with Liverpool and Sunderland but they were both just as ineffective as Zaha.
When you put the numbers side-by-side any direct criticism of Zaha for the way he played is fundamentally flawed. He’s burnt out at the moment and quite obviously emotionally and physically exhausted.
Had he not completed a big money move to Manchester United last season then no one would be getting on his case.
What did you make of Zaha’s England Under-21 performances?
image: © Tom Brogan