As a lad, I once marked Jermaine Pennant during a school football match. He was playing on the right wing and, despite being Europe’s tallest twelve year old boy, I had been farmed out to fullback (experts speculated it was because I was afraid of the ball messing up my floppy, 1994 Jamie Redknapp haircut). To cut a long story short, the future Arsenal, Liverpool and, er FC Pune City star made it appear that, instead of human legs, I was operating on two duffel bags filled with old ham.
It was this encounter that developed in me a healthy respect for what we now strangely call an ‘old fashioned winger’. I say strangely, because in one Premier League team at least there are two of these ‘old fashioned players’ doing very new fashioned things to opposing full backs.
Crystal Palace – under the stewardship of a man fast re-establishing himself as one of Britain’s top twenty ‘Alans’ – are flying up the table like a cat being chased by a slightly bigger cat.
— The Eagles Element (@EaglesElement) March 30, 2015
And, at the heart of this marked improvement is the form of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha on the wings. Along with the win-percentage scrotum tattoo Tim Sherwood is constantly having to refresh, the emergence of these flying Eagles is currently big news – especially in the dying stages of a Premier League that hasn’t quite decided if it’s going to end in a slightly interesting or horribly uninteresting way. Despite their successes in recent months, neither player has had the kind of career path that has pointed them in the direction of great things. Bolasie began as a lower league journeyman at Plymouth, Rushden, Barnet and Bristol City. Zaha, on the other hand, was so unfancied by David Moyes at Manchester United you can only assume he’d once given an unkind review to deep fried Curly Wurlys. And yet the stats show both players, alongside the snarling, ruthless Glenn Murray, are making the difference. For example, it wouldn’t be a Danny Mills-level over-simplification to suggest, in their recent game against QPR, the two wingers took them to pieces pretty much on their own.
However, as is the way with anything new (but old) and different (but the same as stuff we used to see all the time), people have tended to get carried away. Pardew even took time off from sending Mike Ashley parcels filled with his spectacular silver pubes, to declare that Bolasie and Zaha could be as iconic a Palace duo as Ian Wright and Mark Bright. Presumably he meant for their football rather than their soggy, joyless broadcasting ‘bants’.
In amongst the praise it is worth lobbing in a reality grenade and seeing if any bits of flying hyperbole whack you in the face. For example, before his recent run of two goals in his last two games, Zaha had gone 18 Premier League games without a goal or assist. Equally, when they face Manchester City on Monday, one or both of them will be coming up against Pablo Zabaleta, the defender who has made more tackles this season than any other Premier League player, and also a chap who could outsmart both Harry Potter Alan Rickman and Die Hard Alan Rickman – widely regarded as the two craftiest Rickmans.
But, while they’re not in the class of say, 90s rubber-faced touchline molesters Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis, they are clearly thriving in a team that has found a way to play, and win, with width. Liverpool fans should probably not be pencilling in Bolasie as their replacement for Raheem Sterling, and Wilfried Zaha should probably not wait for a conciliatory slab of gouda to arrive through the post, with a note that simply reads ‘Can we start again? Love Big Louis’.
But there is certainly a raw, unpolished excitement about them. Not entirely unlike Tim Sherwood’s heavily-inked nut sack.