Wilfried Zaha hits back at England manager Gareth Southgate for 'questioning his passion'

Jason Burt
Wilfired Zaha in action for the Ivory coast - AFP

Wilfried Zaha has hit back at Gareth Southgate - suggesting the England manager was wrong to apparently question his “passion” and insisting that he did not set a “timescale” on being selected for the national team.

In a statement issued through his representative, Will Salthouse, Zaha also pointedly expressed his disappointment that Southgate had made “public” a meeting between the pair.

Zaha recently declared for the Ivory Coast, the country of his birth, having previously earned two caps in friendlies for England but having been overlooked since 2013 by manager Roy Hodgson.

In the wake of the World Cup qualifier at home to Lithuania, Southgate was asked directly about whether he was disappointed at the Crystal Palace winger’s decision to switch.

He disclosed that he had met Zaha before a Palace away match, against Hull City last December, and after he was appointed England manager on a permanent basis, to discuss the issue. However Southgate said he would only pick players “who are desperate to play for England” and added: “If you don’t feel that internal 100 per cent passion for playing for England, then I’m jot sure it’s for me to sell that to you.”

Zaha announced online that he had chosen to play for the Ivory Coast

This has clearly upset Zaha as has the suggestion that the clock was ticking over his decision to switch allegiances – and the inference that he was therefore holding England to ransom - and in statement through Salthouse, of Unique Sports Management, the forward offered a lengthy rebuttal.

“In light of recent comments and reports questioning Wilfried’s desire or passion to play for England I feel it’s important to set the record straight,” the statement read.

“Wilfried did not impose a timescale or set a date by which he had to be selected by England, there was no ‘disappearing egg timer’. The ‘private’ meeting with Mr Southgate was very amicable.

“However the fact remains that Wilfried made his decision to play for the Ivory Coast prior to Mr Southgate being appointed interim and subsequently permanent England manager.

Enlgand vs Lithuania player ratings

“It was Wilfried’s personal choice and it was his right as a senior player to accept the opportunity to represent his nation of birth and that of his family heritage.

His ‘desire’ or ‘passion’ should never have been publically questioned for making that decision. Wilfried is very proud of his family and very proud to represent the Ivory Coast, most recently demonstrated by his performance against Russia.”

Zaha scored a brilliant individual goal against Russia last Friday and Steve Parish, the Palace chairman, expressed his frustration that the Football Association did not do more to stop him cutting his ties with England. This prompted Southgate to suggest it was not a “helpful” intervention from Parish.

In his briefing Southgate had added: “I didn’t really appreciate there was this disappearing egg timer on him (Zaha) going to the Ivory Coast. He was the first player I went to see when I got the job permanently but he’d already made his mind up.”

In fairness Southgate would not dispute Zaha, or any player’s, right to choose who he plays for - although he will be surprised as to how the 24-year-old has reacted to his comments.

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