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Osian Roberts: Wilfried Zaha can help lead Crystal Palace to the next level

The Eagles academy graduate has made more than 400 appearances for his boyhood club.

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Wilfried Zaha was sent off during Crystal Palace’s recent defeat at Tottenham (John Walton/PA)

Wilfried Zaha was sent off during Crystal Palace’s recent defeat at Tottenham (John Walton/PA)

Wilfried Zaha was sent off during Crystal Palace’s recent defeat at Tottenham (John Walton/PA)

Osian Roberts has praised the demanding nature of Crystal Palace attacker Wilfried Zaha and backed him to help take the club to the next level.

The Ivory Coast international will return from suspension for the New Year’s Day clash with West Ham after he was sent off during the 3-0 loss at Tottenham last weekend.

It will be Zaha’s last domestic game before he jets off to Cameroon for the Africa Cup of Nations, which begins on January 9.

Since the winger graduated through the Eagles academy more than a decade ago, he has regularly been criticised externally for his perceived poor attitude and body language on the pitch, where he can from time to time be seen gesticulating with his own team-mates.

However, current boss Patrick Vieira has often praised the “winning mentality” of Zaha and his assistant echoed those sentiments on Friday.

“I can only go on personal experience over the last few months and I think Wilfried is a top professional who is hungry for success,” Roberts said while filling in for the isolating Palace manager.

“He wants to be successful as an individual and successful in a team environment. In order to do so you have to push yourself, you have to push your team-mates and always demand.

“Patrick is always saying to our group of players you must demand more from each other and Wilfried is one of the first to do that.

“If we want to raise the bar and achieve more moving forward, which the players are ambitious to do, then players like Wilfried are really important in that process.

“He is not one who is going to accept mediocrity, he will expect excellence every day in training and in every game.

“He has a major part to play and it is important players like Wilfried, who have that experience and ability, pass on their experience and help lead this group of players to the next level.”

New Year’s Day opponents West Ham have gone through the transformation Palace are eager to follow from being a mid-table club to a team competing in Europe, albeit with significant investment.

While Roberts did not wish to be drawn on parallels between the sides, he was more than happy to talk up the managerial exploits of Hammers boss David Moyes, who has rebuilt his reputation at the London Stadium following difficult spells with Manchester United and Sunderland.

The Eagles assistant said: “Every club is very different and I am sure the situation will have many differences to it but I am a huge fan of David Moyes.

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“I used to go to Bellefield and watch the Everton first-team train when he was manager and Alan Irvine was assistant. They would allow me to go in and watch training many years ago so I have been a huge fan of David’s for a long time.

“I am so pleased that everybody now is realising he is a top, top manager.

“Maybe some opinions changed for a short while after he left Everton but you don’t become a bad manager overnight. The experience he has gained and the way he has his teams play deserves the utmost respect.”

Palace are awaiting the results of routine PCR testing conducted on Friday which could allow boss Vieira to return to the touchline following a bout of Covid-19.

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