West Ham vs Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha and Declan Rice must see ambitions met as transfer questions swirl

Wilfried Zaha and Declan Rice could both be on the move in next summer’s window  (Getty Images)
Wilfried Zaha and Declan Rice could both be on the move in next summer’s window (Getty Images)

Irreplaceable? Or simply worth more to us than anyone else? And just how much would be enough? Crystal Palace have been dealing with those questions around Wilfried Zaha for years but they may be about to become an irrelevance.

Zaha will play just four more Premier League games before, barring swift and decisive progress on talks over a new contract, he will be allowed to discuss terms with foreign clubs over a free transfer, at which point the situation will move largely beyond Palace’s control.

The first of them comes this Sunday against West Ham, a club living in quiet acceptance that the day will come when those same questions must be asked with a little more urgency regarding their own talismanic academy graduate, Declan Rice.

There was a time when, turning 30 next week, Zaha’s window for a major move would have closed but a player of his quality available on a free in the current market will be too good an opportunity to pass up for the continent’s cash-strapped giants, hence interest from Barcelona and Juventus.

Rice’s situation is more akin to that which Zaha found himself early in his Palace career, though with a glaring difference: Zaha was 20 and the Championship’s leading light when he left to join Manchester United in a £15million deal. Rice, only a few years older, is already a proven Premier League and international performer and West Ham would probably want 10 times that.

Though reluctant to lose their top-scorer, Palace have begun succession planning, with Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise coming to the fore, even if, happily, a squad refresh under Patrick Vieira has brought the best out of Zaha, too.

West Ham’s position is quite the opposite: the Hammers are light on midfield options even with Rice and are reliant not only on his quality but on a freakishly good fitness record as well. With an option to extend the 23-year-old’s contract to 2025, they have no intention of cashing in yet.

But if the World Cup goes the way Rice and England intend, ­speculation will ramp back up. Whether West Ham’s cause might be helped by the probability that Jude Bellingham — a player of similar profile, with similar suitors, and perhaps a more willing seller — will be moving next summer remains to be seen.

Already, the Hammers have been able to offer Rice two seasons of European football and a show of ambition in terms of recruitment that Palace, more limited in resource, could never match. Soon, however, the day will come when it is Rice’s turn to ask whether that is quite enough.