Why Alan Shearer is wrong about Wilfried Zaha
Background photo: Rocky Biggs, CC BY-SA 4.0
Groundhog Day may have been a week ago, but for Wilfried Zaha, every day is a repeat. Once again the Ivorian finds himself in the middle of a storm in a teacup revolving around diving. Once again, he appears to have annoyed the pundits, among them, Alan Shearer.
This time it is regarding an incident in a draw with Southampton. For most of the day, Zaha had been enjoying himself. His goal had put the Eagles in front and looked like securing a crucial win for Roy Hodgson’s men.
Then the forward clashed with James Ward-Prowse. In hindsight, Zaha will know the midfielder played him. His goading, antagonistic approach lured the Palace man in and got the reaction he wanted. A booking was issued. Immediately after, Zaha decided to sarcastically applaud the referee and earned himself an early bath.
Putting aside questions about how clapping an official is more offensive than abusing him, as countless players do on a weekly basis aside, Zaha knows he was foolish. His own reaction after the game, when the red mist cleared, showed he knew as much. He’s an experienced player and should have reacted better. It is a lesson he will have learned the hard way with an extra game ban and £10,000 fine to serve.
Although wrong, Zaha deserves some defence. His reaction is understandable. Amid the red card furore, it's been forgotten that Ward-Prowse’s precipitous tackle was a bad on the officials should have punished. It was also one of several similar fouls throughout the game.
Pundits like Shearer believe Zaha should man up and get on with it. They also believe that he should take the attention he receives as a compliment. The argument they make is that he is only fouled so often because he’s such a good player. Teams are scared of him and their only way to deal with his prowess is to foul him.
They will also point to other players who get the same treatment but neither complain or react like Zaha. Eden Hazard is the example that’s given constantly. The difference is that Hazard plays for Chelsea and they are a big-six club. Fans of those sides may be loathe to admit it but the fact is those clubs get more decisions going their way than against.
Hazard and Zaha are the perfect examples. Both players are fouled on average three times per game this season but how many more freekicks is the former awarded than the latter? It’s easy to imagine the difference is impressive.
In fact, look at the dispossession stats and it may be an indicator. Zaha has somehow been dispossessed 87 times this season while Hazard is only on 60.
Zaha is not subjected to small, niggling challenges here and there. If he was it would easier to get on board with Shearer and company’s insistence he gets on with it. But Zaha does not get that kind of treatment. Instead, he’s subjected to potentially season-ending tackles every week. Ward-Prowse’s wasn't one but several of his teammates put them in during that game.
Rewind the season and there are incidents such as Etienne Capoue’s stamp or Mathias Jorgensen’s horror tackle. The latter, another potential season ender, saw Zaha receive a yellow for his reaction.
Put yourself in Zaha’s shoes and you can understand his anger He is a victim of potential season-ending, or at worst career-ending tackles, on a weekly basis. Not only that, he is not being protected by the officials.
It also makes a mockery of those pundits who tell him to get on with it. They would not have put up with it during their careers. Anyone who says so is a liar. Nor would they tell any player in the top six, the likes of Hazard, Mohamed Salah, Leroy Sane etc, to get on with it. Instead, they would insist these players should be protected. It’s hypocrisy at its finest.
So the next time you see Wilfried Zaha being criticised for reacting to a challenge, have a think. Shearer and company will tell you he should get on with it but that is wrong on many levels. Perhaps when Zaha has his leg broken, they’ll see how misguided they are in suggesting it...