When Wilfried Zaha was growing up moments from the bright lights of Selhurst Park, he spent much of his spare time at Premier League Kicks, a programme for local youngsters to develop their football skills.
Today, as well as Palace for Life Foundation running their own Premier League Kicks programme, Zaha has established a similar scheme of his own, ensuring the next generation of south Londoners have a place to ..
The Wilfried Zaha Academy in Purley “gives kids something to strive for,” in Zaha’s words.
Taking the On The Judy podcast for a visit, he explained more about his motivation for co-founding the academy: “The reason I started it is it gives the kids something to strive for. You go to the academy and hopefully as the academy grows we can give them an opportunity to flourish and be a feeder for these [professional] clubs so they can hopefully have a career of their own.
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“I didn’t see those things as attainable when I was younger. I’m blessed to be able to have my own academy and if I can give back and have children enjoying it, why not do it?”
It’s this approach Zaha seeks to show off-pitch. On the pitch it’s tougher: t. are matches to win.
“Me being moany and whatever, that’s me on the pitch, that’s me being passionate and wanting to win. If I come across as a bad person, so be it. But I know deep down I’m not a bad person. If you know me off the pitch, if you know what I stand for and how I am you’d understand my whole [reason] why I do these things.
“You’d speak to me and understand why and know w. I’ve come from… it’s not just an overnight thing. I let people think what they want to think when they see highlights for five minutes on Match of the Day.”
When those highlights do misrepresent Zaha – he and the interviewer’s example being focus on a missed penalty against Norwich City, when the Ivorian also scored the Goal of the Season – he says he looks past the criticism.
“The only thing I put it down to is the world thrives off negativity. So it’s a thing w. t.’s nothing I can do to change it. I just have to get on with it. To be a footballer you need to have a thick skin. It’s a thing that I’m developing every day – I can’t say things don’t get to me but I’m reacting less and less now.”
Zaha won’t get that sort of negative attention from one cohort: Palace fans. Having been with the club from the age of 11 and with 430 appearances behind him, the talismanic forward has had the fanbase behind him for over a decade.
“I’ve been at Palace for a long time but I feel like they’re the only team that back their .ers through thick and thin,” he says. “They remember. I still have fans who tell me they love me because of the [2012/13] promotion season, the goals against Brighton, Watford, those are things that stay in people’s minds.
“At other clubs they’ve won so many things it’s like: ‘I don’t care, I want the next one.’ But you don’t know how much it takes to do these things.
“Appreciation goes a long way. Obviously when people have that, their memory, yesterday doesn’t matter. It makes such a difference. Seeing your own fans scream at you to ‘get out my club’ and stuff is not nice for a footballer. Having fans support you 100% makes a difference.”
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