Wilfried Zaha is RIGHT when he says referees don't protect him – but is responding in the perfect way

Wilf Zaha scoring the best goal of the Premier League season to date.

Or the Crystal Palace forward answering a post-match question with searing honesty and passion, claiming that an opponent would need to break his leg to ever get red-carded.

Even those who choose to boo Zaha would struggle to disagree his goal which beat Huddersfield was world class.

With those familiar jeers ringing out, he produced a step-over, then a burst of pace, then slipped into a non-existent space between two defenders, then bent his shot around another man, hard and accurate inside the far post.

Zaha celebrated with the fury of the wronged. Cupping his ears, sticking it up ’em.

He’d been kicked up in the air by Mathias Jorgensen and, by his own admission, lost his head and been booked for a wild challenge.

When Match of the Day’s Vicki Sparks asked about Zaha receiving “a few tasty challenges”, she did so with a smile.

In response, Zaha wasn’t smiling.

He brought up a deplorable challenge from Watford’s Etienne Capoue last month, which ought to have resulted in a straight red and demanded to know why he was treated differently to other players.

The challenge which earned Jorgensen a yellow was probably an ‘orange’ rather than an obvious red but you understood Zaha’s point.

They boo Zaha because they reckon he’s a cheat who goes down too easily. Even the Watford mascot, Harry the Hornet, has suggested as much.

Yet since the start of the 2016-17 season he is the most fouled player in the Premier League, ten ahead of second-placed Eden Hazard.

Zaha is no delicate flower, either. He has a history of returning earlier than expected from injury, as he had done from a groin strain before Huddersfield.

So when Zaha claims he is less likely to attempt dribbles when he thinks opponents might go through the back of him without proper punishment, surely every right-minded supporter ought to back the dribbler rather than the hatchet man?

But apparently Zaha is supposed to suffer in silence — as Hazard tends to do.

Even Gary Lineker urged Zaha to consider his bruising as a ‘compliment’ and mentioned that he ‘should have played in the 80s’ if he wanted to know more about physicality.

And of course the game is less violent than it was. Yet it would be a greater spectacle if flair players were protected half as much as goalkeepers are — see Palace’s disallowed effort at Huddersfield or Danny Welbeck’s ‘equaliser’ for England against Spain.

Yet Zaha was correct to call out referees and Palace were right to complain to the Premier League, too.

Many still don’t like it when the young and gifted speak up for themselves. Especially when they’re young, gifted and black.

They get called chippy and ungrateful far more often than white lads.

Some don’t like it that Zaha chose to play for his native Ivory Coast rather than England after a couple of friendly appearances for the Three Lions.

And it is a shame for any England fan because Zaha is a more complete player than Raheem Sterling and would have lit up the World Cup, either alongside the Manchester City player or instead of him.

Palace boss Roy Hodgson didn’t quite spot Zaha’s full potential and nail him down as an England player and neither did his former Under-21s boss Gareth Southgate — despite Palace chairman Steve Parish literally begging him to select the player for the seniors.

But Sir Alex Ferguson did recognise it and made Zaha his final Manchester United signing. Sadly, he didn’t stick around to nurture Zaha and we had to wait until he returned to Palace to witness his blossoming.

Now no single player, not even Mo Salah or Hazard, is more important to a Premier League team than Zaha is to Palace.

It’s refreshing to see him flourish at a team outside the top six but it won’t be long before an elite club goes big.

Had Spurs shown the courage of their convictions and made a huge bid this summer, they’d be title challengers now.

Zaha did not always have an exemplary attitude in his younger days — including with Southgate’s U21s — but that is hardly unusual for a kid.

Now a mature footballer of 25, Zaha does deserve greater respect.

We shouldn’t be wondering whether there is a chip on his shoulder.

We should be worrying about the scars on his legs.

Nani McFee

CHAMPIONSHIP Reading have appointed Gianluca Nani as their sporting director — with chief executive Ron Gourlay hailing the Italian’s ‘proven pedigree’.

Nani arrived at West Ham from Brescia in 2008, then made the £9million club-record signing of Savio Nsereko from his old club, before being axed a year later.

Nsereko had one start, was sold at a loss and has since played in Kazakhstan and Lithuania.

Nani later joined Watford, leaving while the then-Championship club were in a chaotic spell of four managers in two months.

So, yeah, a ‘proven pedigree’ of sorts.

Champions just too good

ONE month into the season, the champions of Europe’s big five leagues — Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City — have played 21 matches and won 20.

A goal from Wolves defender Willy Boly, which should have been disallowed for offside and handball, earned a draw against City and averted a clean sweep.

So while it’s good to have the Champions League back, let’s not forget that its riches have damaged the competitive nature of so much domestic football.

Zlat's just superb

THE 500th goal of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s extraordinary career — a twisting back-heeled volley for LA Galaxy — was not just a case of this 36-year-old dog learning new tricks.

This is a man whose imagination is so far off the scale they really ought to drug test him for LSD.

Time to limit the loans

FIFA will do football a significant service if they implement plans to limit how many players a club can loan out.

The business of buy-to-let footballers, farmed out for profit by clubs who have little intention of giving them first-team action, is morally repugnant and needs stamping out.

May not be needed

TALK of a rematch between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao is depressing.

Their 2015 fight — dubbed ‘the fight of the century’ beforehand but ‘a bag of s**te’ afterwards — came several years too late.

There are great contests in the pipeline between fighters in their prime. Nobody wants a seniors tour for boxing.

United's Total Football

CHRIS SMALLING scoring goals like Marco van Basten and Romelu Lukaku making crucial tackles at right-back?

Manchester United’s win at Watford suggests Jose Mourinho has enrolled with the school of total football — star pupils Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola . . .

It's Paul over

SHANE WARNE once told Paul Collingwood it was ‘embarrassing’ he got an MBE for a ‘minor contribution’ in the final Test of the epic 2005 Ashes series in England.

Yet that gong was merely premature.

Collingwood, who has retired at 42, was a fine batsman, a brilliant fielder and true 100-per-center who should be a future England head coach.

Name the cretin

MOEEN ALI is a likeable bloke and the fact he did not report an Australian opponent he claims called him ‘Osama’ in the 2015 Ashes stems from his basic decency.

Yet the culprit, known to most people around cricket, really does not deserve the protection.

Moeen should name, shame and end this cretin’s top-level career.

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