Gareth Southgate opens up on ‘bad atmosphere’ with Wilfried Zaha after England snub

Southgate hopes Kane breaks England record in World Cup final

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Gareth Southgate insists Ivory Coast star Wilfried Zaha has nothing to prove tomorrow night claiming their war of words five years ago was all just a misunderstanding. Two friendly internationals for England as a youngster in 2012 and 2013 were not enough to secure Zaha’s international future and he had spent four years in the England wilderness.

Shortly after being given the England job on a permanent basis, Southgate resolved to settle the issue – but ended up being given short shrift.

He reported back at the time that Zaha lacked the “passion” to play for England, provoking a strongly-worded statement from the player.

But ahead of Zaha’s first chance to face England with the country of his birth Ivory Coast, Southgate insists it was all a misinterpretation.

“I remember going to a hotel, Palace were playing away, and meeting with Wilf but at that point he had made his mind up,” Southgate recalled.

“I can understand it because he had been four years without playing. I remember being asked at the time and we were asked about a few different cases and I said players have to have the desire to play for England.

“That was slightly tweaked a bit, I would say, so that created a little bit of an atmosphere probably with Wilf and Palace chairman Steve Parish, for a little while.

“But that wasn’t an insinuation certainly on Wilf’s attitude. You couldn’t have a more passionate player and certainly those who follow Crystal Palace know.”

Southgate actually worked with Zaha at England under-21 level, but it came at an awkward stage of his career.

“Wilf is a very good player and when we had him with the U21s he was in the middle of a very difficult spell both with Manchester United and then on loan with Cardiff.

“We also had him after he had already made his senior debut, so it is always more difficult for the players.”

Bottom line is that Southgate feels that having been at the right place at the wrong time, too many other players then pushed in front of Zaha in the queue.

“Roy Hodgson had players who were ahead of him for a long period and then we had four games as caretaker where we were quite settled with experienced players and we didn’t want to bring too many new players in at that point,” Southgate said.

“It’s hard to say what his role might have been with us.

“Raheem Sterling has been a key part of our team for a long period, Jesse Lingard had done a fabulous job and at the start we had Adam Lallana, who was our player of the year for the first 18 months or so.

“But then he’s had the opportunity to play in the Africa Cup of Nations and everything else, so no one had a crystal ball in terms of knowing how that would have worked out.”

Shortly after being given the England job on a permanent basis, Southgate resolved to settle the issue – but ended up being given short shrift. He reported back at the time that Zaha lacked the “passion” to play for England, provoking a strongly-worded statement from the player.

But ahead of Zaha’s first chance to face England with the country of his birth Ivory Coast, Southgate insists it was all a misinterpretation.

“I remember going to a hotel, Palace were playing away, and meeting with Wilf but at that point he had made his mind up,” Southgate recalled. “I can understand it because he had been four years without playing. I remember being asked at the time and we were asked about a few different cases and I said players have to have the desire to play for England.

“That was slightly tweaked a bit, I would say, so that created a little bit of an atmosphere probably with Wilf and Palace chairman Steve Parish, for a little while. But that wasn’t an insinuation certainly on Wilf’s attitude. You couldn’t have a more passionate player and certainly those who follow Crystal Palace know.”

Southgate actually worked with Zaha at England under-21 level, but it came at an awkward stage of his career.

“Wilf is a very good player and when we had him with the U21s he was in the middle of a very difficult spell both with Manchester United and then on loan with Cardiff,” he added. “We also had him after he had already made his senior debut, so it is always more difficult for the players.”

Bottom line is that Southgate feels that having been at the right place at the wrong time, too many other players then pushed in front of Zaha in the queue.

“Roy Hodgson had players who were ahead of him for a long period and then we had four games as caretaker where we were quite settled with experienced players and we didn’t want to bring too many new players in at that point,” Southgate said. “It’s hard to say what his role might have been with us.

“Raheem Sterling has been a key part of our team for a long period, Jesse Lingard had done a fabulous job and at the start we had Adam Lallana, who was our player of the year for the first 18 months or so.

“But then he’s had the opportunity to play in the Africa Cup of Nations and everything else, so no one had a crystal ball in terms of knowing how that would have worked out.”

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