Wilfried Zaha has resisted Gareth Southgate’s attempts to persuade him to pledge his future to England and will link up with Ivory Coast next week before the Africa Cup of Nations. The Crystal Palace winger will join Michel Dussuyer’s squad immediately after the home game against Swansea City next Tuesday.
Palace have received special dispensation to select their youth-team graduate for that fixture despite Ivory Coast’s players being due to convene in Abu Dhabi on Monday for a 10-day, pre-tournament training camp. The tournament in Gabon runs for three weeks from 14 January and the Ivorians open their Group C campaign against Togo on 16 January, meaning Zaha, who made two substitute appearances for England in friendly fixtures dating from Roy Hodgson’s spell in charge, could be away until early February.
That would rule Zaha out of league games against West Ham, Everton, Bournemouth and Sunderland, together with the early stages of Palace’s FA Cup campaign.
The new Palace manager, Sam Allardyce, has already conceded his absence would represent “a massive blow” having discovered for sure only this week that the 24-year-old was intent on representing the country of his birth.
Southgate, who coached the winger at under-21s level, had held talks with Zaha but appears to have failed to persuade him to stick with England.
The player has grown disillusioned with a lack of opportunities with England, despite his impressive form in the Premier League over the last 18 months. The youngster left Abidjan with his family at the age of four to move to south London.
Zaha’s decision to go to Gabon could also frustrate Tottenham Hotspur’s anticipated pursuit of the player next month. Spurs had derisory bids for Zaha dismissed in the summer – the first amounted to little more than £12m – and were expected to return with an improved offer in the region of £25m in January, though the fact Zaha could be absent for the entire month may wreck the possibility of a move.
Palace’s hierarchy are intent on resisting offers for a player who has been a rare bright spark over a difficult Premier League campaign to date.
The forward, Palace’s most consistent performer to date this season, was one of six England players included in Dussuyer’s provisional 24-man squad. They include the Manchester United defender Eric Bailly, who has struggled of late with knee problems, and Stoke’s striker, Wilfried Bony, who is on loan from Manchester City. The under-used Bournemouth winger Max Gradel, Sunderland’s centre-half Lamine Koné and the Aston Villa forward, Jonathan Kodjia, are also included.
Ivory Coast squad
Goalkeepers Sylvain Gbohuo (TP Mazembe), Badra Sangare (AS Tanda), Mande Sayouba (Stabaek)
Defenders: Serge Aurier (PSG), Mamadou Bagayoko (St Trond VV), Eric Bailly (Manchester United), Simon Deli (Slavia Prague), Ousmane Viera Diarrassouba (Adanaspor), Wilfried Kanon (ADO La Haye), Lamine Koné (Sunderland), Adama Traoré (FC Bâle)
Midfielders Victorien Angban (Grenada), Cheik Doukoure (FC Metz), Franck Kessié (Atalanta), Yao Serge N’guessan (AS Nancy), Geoffroy Serey Die (FC Bâle), Jean Michaël Seri (OGC Nice)
Forwards Wilfried Bony (Stoke City), Max Gradel (Bournemouth), Salomon Kalou (Hertha Berlin), Jonathan Kodjia (Aston Villa), Nicolas Pépé (Angers), Giovanni Sio (Stade Renne), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)