Gareth Southgate to convince Wilfried Zaha to play for England rather than Ivory Coast

Gareth Southgate keen to convince Wilfried Zaha his future lies with England rather than Ivory Coast

Gareth Southgate says that he will personally try to persuade Wifried Zaha to reverse his decision to switch international allegiance to the Ivory Coast and has revealed that he was close to selecting the Crystal Palace man for his last England squad in November.

Wilfried Zaha, 24, surprised the Football Association by announcing last week that he had switched allegiance to the country of his birth having won two senior caps for England in 2012 and 2013. He was also for some time a key member of Southgate’s England Under-21s team, winning 13 caps over two years and playing at the 2013 European championships.

The player has become disillusioned with his chances of returning to the England squad, although his form has improved in recent months.

Southgate, appointed on Wednesday as the 15th permanent England manager in the history of the FA, watched Zaha play for Palace at home to Southampton on Saturday.

Asked about whether he felt Zaha’s decision was final, Southgate said: “I cannot assess that until I speak with him. I would like to speak to him before we make a decision and happy to make that happen.”

Gareth Southgate to convince Wilfried Zaha to play for England rather than Ivory Coast - News
Wilfried Zaha poses with an Ivory Coast shirt

He added: “We are still first and foremost hopeful that we can speak to Wilfried Zaha. He’s a player I’ve obviously worked with. At the time, I had him with the Under-21s. First few months he played very well for us then he had a difficult period for his club [Manchester United]. [He had] A loan spell at Cardiff that didn’t go so well.

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“At the stage we had players like Tom Ince, who was performing better in the Championship out wide for us so he dipped out of that group. Then obviously over the last couple of years, with respect no one was questioning him not being in our [senior Euro 2016] squad that summer.

“But he has played very well this season. I saw him at Everton where he played okay.  He played well at Burnley where in the second half I thought he was excellent. I had a conversation with Alan Pardew about him that week leading up to that game. I had a conversation about Steve Parish about him at half-time during that game. He is someone who I said to Alan I am aware of.

“I only had a few days to make a decision [on the squad for Scotland and Spain games in November] and I had a squad that had done pretty well in October and I wanted to build on that. We had Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling coming into that. But he [Wilfried Zaha] is certainly someone who has talent, is in a good moment with his club and ideally I’d like to talk to him before he makes that decision final.”

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Gareth Southgate to convince Wilfried Zaha to play for England rather than Ivory Coast - News
Gareth Southgate wants Wilfried Zaha to play for England CREDIT: EPA

Southgate also confirmed that the FA would continue their interest in selecting the Cheshire-born Liverpool striker Ben Woodburn, 17, who became the youngest ever goalscorer in the club’s history and has represented Wales up to Under-19 level.

Southgate said there was an “ethical debate” about how young national associations should scout players and that other countries were targeting them at an increasingly younger age. Southgate said: “Ben’s a player we’ve known for a long time. He got into Wales’ system very young so this is a challenge for us now in terms of dual-nationality boys we have.”

He added: “Ben is a player and we’ve certainly recognised his qualities in the last couple of years on the first-team radar.”

Southgate acknowledged that the spirit within his squad will be fundamental and that the culture he encountered as a player would be unworkable now.

“The way it was done [in the past] we’d have got hounded out of the room [for doing it now], but the world is different now and we’ve got to find alternatives.

“We can’t all be in China Jump [the Hong Kong bar that was the scene of the notorious pre-Euro 1996 squad night out] at 3am, but Terry Venables was a brilliant psychologist, greatest man-management and a brilliant coach too.”

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