Emotional mastery key for Wilfried Zaha amid Dortmund interest

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The Crystal Palace winger showed his best and worst qualities on Wednesday, scoring and then getting sent off at St Mary's Stadium

COMMENT    By Solace Chukwu     

On some days, it is easy to reconcile the reported interest from Borussia Dortmund in Wilfried Zaha, an electric winger who, as Jurgen Klopp avers, is world-class and cannot be marked 1v1.

On others, the volatility of his temperament, the wild variability of his output and the imprecision of his decision-making make it less so.

On Wednesday, both sides were on display. In the words of his own manager, Zaha "provided some of the best entertainment during the 90 minutes with his performance" and opened the scoring for the Eagles with a crisp finish, but was then sent off after two bookings in the space of a minute as Crystal Palace drew away at Southampton.

Sarcastic applause may be construed as dissent per the Laws of the Game, but a yellow card does seem like overkill. However, that's not the point. His latest indiscretion raises the question, especially when placed side by side with his failed stint at Manchester United, whether the player has mentally matured to the point of having another go at a major club.

With Jadon Sancho thriving in Westphalia, there now appears, more than ever, to be a market for speedy, tricky wingers from England.

Jadon Sancho Dortmund Monchengladbach

Incidentally, this is the sort of footballer that Germany's largely homogenous, overly sanitized football development no longer seems to produce: the visceral, off-the-cuff, street footballer at heart.

That otherness has elevated Sancho, and should the interest solidify further, the prospect of flying wingers on either side of the attack is sure to take Lucien Favre's side to the next level. Zaha would seem a natural fit for Dortmund's direct attacking and lightning transitions as well.

There is also, in Dortmund's more emotive support and stylings of true love, a more natural home for a player who seems to require a quantum of solace in order to produce his best form. 

And yet, that kernel of doubt remains.

Wilfried Zaha Crystal Palace

So far this season, the 26-year-old has managed four goals and five assists.

In a Crystal Palace side that has struggled for goals, and are lacking for consistent quality upfront, it is hard not to be sympathetic to the Ivory Coast international. He is also routinely one of the two most fouled players in the Premier League, often targeted by opposing defenders who have been left flummoxed by his array of tricks.

However, there is a statistical oddity, which serves to highlight a sense of emotional fragility: he has been booked in every Premier League game in which he has scored this season. Already this term, he has exceeded the total number of bookings he got last season, in eight fewer appearances.

Perhaps understandably for a player who is often the butt of poor challenges, he gets wound up quite a bit. That simple cause and effect dynamic, while easy enough to grasp, will not do for the very highest level.

Wilfried Zaha - Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace

It is a cross that flair players, fairly or otherwise, must bear; there is an almost Zen-like equanimity which the likes of Eden Hazard and Lionel Messi have come to adopt, something almost akin to empathy for the plight of their traducers.

They foul because they know not what they do.

This is rooted, not in any romantic notions, or even in religion, but in self-preservation, and that not merely of the self, but of emotional energy.

Wilfried Zaha | 2018-19 Premier League stats

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If energy is neither created nor destroyed, but simply transmitted, then even emotional outbursts can serve to empower opponents by transmitting nervous energy from the fouled to the aggressor.

By withholding that, refusing to lash out and focusing all their energies on the actual game, the very best are able to deliver consistently, while maintaining a stable emotional base.

That really is the crux of the matter. It is the monastic mastery of his own emotional state that will indicate quite whether Zaha is ready to make a success of a second try at the top level.