Galatasaray Isn't The Move Wilfried Zaha Expected At His Peak, But It Suits Him

The Ivory Coast winger could have gone to Arsenal a few years ago
14:00, 24 Jul 2023

Wilfried Zaha has signed for Galatasaray on a free transfer after his Crystal Palace contract expired at the end of last season. The Ivory Coast winger’s next move has been debated for years.

Signing for the Turkish Super Lig champions was not high on many people’s lists when picking his next destination. Zaha wouldn’t have expected to pitch up at Rams Park either. But many potential big moves came and went as Zaha ploughed a lonely furrow at Palace. He departs as arguably their greatest player of all-time but with a pervading sense of “What if?”

Zaha had chances to move on. He took one of them, swapping the Eagles for Manchester United in 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signing, the player never got a chance to play under the legendary Scotsman. Zaha put pen to paper for the Red Devils in January 2013, but was loaned back to Palace for the remainder of the season. By the time he pitched up at Old Trafford, David Moyes had replaced his countryman as manager.


The reasons for Zaha never catching on under Moyes have been debated for a decade. The Sportsman will not speculate upon unsubstantiated rumour and innuendo here. The only undeniable facts are that Zaha played just four games for the club, two of which arrived in the Premier League. 

The following season he was loaned back to Palace, who were now a top-tier club themselves. So successful was the move that Zaha was signed permanently in the winter window. Contrary to his sidelining at United, they entrusted him to play 31 Premier League matches that season. It will always be curious that United cut ties with Zaha so swiftly considering he had demonstrated his Premier League credentials in that half-season on loan at Palace. 

Zaha became Palace’s talisman, enjoying the plaudits of his 'youth product made good' backstory. The 2015-16 season saw the Ivorian pick up the first of three Crystal Palace Player of the Year awards. Zaha would play in an FA Cup final that year too, losing to former club United.


The 2016-17 campaign was a fateful one for Zaha for contrasting reasons. His winning goal against Hull City guaranteed Palace’s Premier League safety, and his place in the pantheon as a club icon. But the five-year deal he signed in the close season would ultimately put paid to future attempts to move on. The survival-sealing goal meant he would always be part of the Eagles’ past. The contract meant he was to be a central part of Palace’s future.

Two years later, the cost of signing so much of his future away would be felt by Zaha. Arsenal came in with a £40 million bid for the player ahead of the 2019-20 season. Zaha desired European football and, at the age of 26, wanted to spend his best years at a club challenging for trophies. But Palace stood firm, having the protection of Zaha’s contract in their favour. 

The collapse of the Arsenal deal stood as a warning. Never again would a team so publicly pursue the Ivory Coast winger. To his credit, he never treated Palace like a prison. He scored 11 goals in 30 games in the 2020-21 season and 14 goals the following year. As Palace established themselves as part of the Premier League furniture he was their central figure. The homegrown hero fans could rally behind.

Zaha was in demand this summer too. Having seen out that long contract he signed many moons ago, teams were queuing up to sign him. They just weren’t the elite sides that once considered signing him. An Arsenal reunion was never likely given their title ambitions. Chelsea have just moved out a load of over-30s and didn’t need to sign another one. United couldn’t make it work in his prime and had no appetite to try again. Tottenham Hotspur have bigger problems.

Instead it was clubs outside the Premier League that fancied a bit of the magic Zaha can offer. Serie A’s Lazio were one. Saudi Pro League side Al-Ettifaq were almost inevitably another. But Zaha finds himself at a club in Galatasaray where he does fit the ethos. He will be surrounded by illustrious veteran talent like Mauro Icardi, Cedric Bakambu and Dries Mertens. Zaha can guide young starlets like ex-Barcelona loanee Yusuf Demir. All this while playing Champions League football, if the club comes through their qualifier against FK Zalgiris.

It’s not the ending we all expected when Zaha was a teenager lighting up the Championship. Nor when he rebuilt his reputation post-United. But it is an appropriate one ripe with potential for the 30-year-old version. The Turkish Super Lig is about to get a close look at a player still capable of the spectacular.

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