“Leaving here as no one and coming back as a hero. And I don’t feel like I have done anything yet.” Having left the Ivory Coast as a four-year-old, Wilfried Zaha knew his homecoming would be an emotional one.
In Wilfried Zaha | Coming Home, Palace TV joined the winger on his journey back to the west African country for their crucial World Cup qualifier against Morocco.
And though it ended in heartache – with Morocco’s 2-0 win ruling Ivory Coast out of contention for a spot in Russia – for Zaha the outpouring of love from supporters was a “crazy” sight to behold.
“Putting on the [Ivory Coast] shirt means a lot because they have so much love and belief in me, I haven’t even done anything yet,” Zaha said.
“It’s crazy when I’m seeing that, they don’t even know me, feeling the love when I get back from the airport like I’m a superstar or something.
“I appreciate all the support. It makes me want to do my best for the country because they support me like crazy.”
Before the loss to Morocco, Zaha reflected on his move to the UK, where he initially struggled to communicate at school due to the language barrier.
He also spoke of his delight at being able to tell his father he can now retire.
“I was four when I came over so I don’t really remember much about anything then. I spoke French but started forgetting it,” Zaha added.
“It was hard to communicate with anyone in school in general. No one ever understood anything I said, basic things were just hard.
“My dad is 70 but he’s the type of person that wants to get up at 6am and go for a jog. It’s like, what are you doing? Chill out.
“I feel proud because I am at that stage when I can be like, ‘Dad you can retire now and chill out, you don’t have to make the efforts you used to, you’ve done enough for me’. I’m happy I can do that for my parents.”
Zaha also revealed his admiration for former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, who as a fellow Ivorian gave the Crystal Palace winger belief that he could also make it as a Premier League footballer.
“The only way people knew about Ivory Coast was because of Didier Drogba,” Zaha said.
“He has always been someone I’ve looked up to and it’s just nice to know that he is from the place I’m from.
“It just showed me that I could make it the same way he did.”