Crystal Palace wonderkid Wilfried Zaha has been rewarded for his scintillating performances this season with a call up to the England squad.
Zaha, 20, who moved to Croydon as a four-year-old from the Ivory Coast, has been called up by England manager Roy Hodgson, who is also a Croydon boy, and could face Sweden tonight at Wembley.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for the winger, who celebrated his twentieth birthday on Saturday.
The former Whitehorse Manor and Selsdon High School pupil has dazzled for Crystal Palace so far this season.
Phil Horton, Zaha’s head of PE at Selsdon High School (now Quest Academy), said his former pupil was always a special talent, even admitting Zaha had embarrassed him a few times with his sublime skills.
He said: "Some kids just want to win and a good kid will want to play someone who isn’t as good just so he wins, whereas Wilfried wasn’t like that. He always wanted a challenge.
"He would pair himself with his best mate Juevan Spencer and make sure they were on opposite sides so they could challenge each other.
"Wilf was the standout player. He had that desire of always wanting to win and if we were losing he would try even harder and encourage the team to do better and pick them up to play harder.
"I am proud and pleased at how well he has done. I remember when I would have to lend him some shin pads and give out the kit etc.
"Now the next time I see him I will have to pay £50 for the privilege. Money well spent though."
The winger is the first academy graduate since John Salako in 1991 to receive a full England call up, with Andy Johnson the last Eagles’ player to get called up for international duty in 2005.
Crystal Palace academy manager Gary Issott, who brought Zaha through the youth system at Palace, was delighted with the youngster’s progress.
Issott said: "His journey was a strange one. You normally know very quickly whether a player has that special ability. With Victor Moses, you knew he was going to be a first class player.
"But Wilfried was a late developer, at 14 to 15 years old, he did not stand out, there was nothing to suggest the player he would become. But he excelled in the U16s and when he went into the U17s he took off.
"Can he go all the way? Of course he can."
James Daley, editor of the Five Year Plan Fanzine said: "It is like it is a call up for all of us. It is a feather in the cap of the academy and fantastic for Wilf.
"Fans have given him great support and been with him all the way. I desperately wanted to go to Sweden but it is basically the most expensive place in Europe which is annoying.
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