Put The Ball Away with Wilfried Zaha

posted by on 13/09/2013

Right, I’ve had to rejig the introduction for this one. Initially written by Eniola who was present for the original interview with Zaha which took place a good 6-7 months ago now, prior to his signing with the team that lost to Liverpool yesterday. When Nike Sportswear hit us up re: interviewing him again, who was going to say no? It was interesting opportunity to see if he had changed since the transfer move to the biggest club in the world. Read on, starting off with Eniola’s interview with Wilfried.


These days we all think we know the footballer’s that we watch week in and week out. Our assumptions are guided by the sensationalist and often exaggerated stories we read in the papers, or the 2 minute post match player interviews heavily loaded with football clichés and robotic answers – or even the edited Match of the Day pieces on a weekend which often highlight the one bad thing a player did in a 90 minute game. But do we really know who these players are?

As a player myself I know how easy it is to hold back in interviews, drop a cliché here and there and say what everyone wants to hear with the sole purpose of making sure my words aren’t twisted. Well this is what many players do, which is a shame because we rarely get an insight into the normal lives of football players and what drives them as individuals like you and me. This is my motivation behind my series Put The Ball Away. Put the Ball Away is an interview series that is exactly what it says on the tin; putting the ball away (i.e not talking about football (give or take a few football questions ;)) but rather conversations with players about other interesting aspects of their lives.



So without much further ado, I am delighted to launch this series with the man of the moment and the name on everyone’s lips, new Manchester United signing: Wilfried Zaha. He needs no introductions. All I will say is he is “Just too Good”. Interview after the jump

You are 20 years old, have already made 100+ appearances for Crystal Palace, you won the Football League Award and a call up to England and have just signed for Manchester United, the biggest team in the world. How do you feel about the profile you have raised for yourself over the past year? Did you expect all this?

I didn’t expect any of it really but my whole aim was just to work hard and see where my rewards would get me. My mindframe was just to work hard and see what comes of it but I am just happy that everything came at once.


Many people, notably Ian Holloway have commented on how humble you are as a person despite your unbelievable talent. How do you stay humble and not let the hype distract you? 

Basically I keep my head down and play. Because of the people I have around me like my family they just keep me grounded. They know how much I’ve struggled to get where I am now so it just makes me realise that there is no point trying to pretend that I am someone I am not. I just need to be the way I have always been.

Tell us more about your family, your background, where you grew up in London and how you first developed your football?

My family is from the Ivory Coast and I was born in the Ivory Coast. I came here when I was about 4 and I have lived in Croydon, London all of my life. Croydon is what I know. I have a close family and we are always together making decisions. Anything I do I like to bring my brothers with me to help me with the decisions I make.

I developed my talent mostly by practicing indoors and playing with my little sister! Or I’d go to the park with my brothers and that allowed me to practice more and more.

Tell us more about “He’s Just Too Good For You” tag. How did it start?

I played so many games for Palace that every trick I’d do the fans would start singing He’s Just Too Good For You to give me confidence and it stuck so I decided to make something of it.

You did a colloboration with Team Imani and Just Too Good For You, how did that come about and will you be doing more colloborations?

Basically they knew about the “Just Too Good” tag and they wanted to promote that and put it into something short and catchy. I want to do more of it, I am planning on bringing out a fashion line hopefully inspired by my style.

I have seen a lot of your tweets and have noticed that God and faith is a huge influence on your life. How does faith play part in your mind, mentality and football?

I can’t do things without putting it in God’s hands. I play for God first because all my success in my life has come from trusting God first. I give thanks to God for all my success and I have to let people know that.

If you had friends/family visiting London, where would you take them for…


I am a Nando’s guy! I’d take them to Nando’s because when I am hungry that is where I go!


To be honest, I don’t like to travel much so I’d probably stay local to Croydon and go to the Whitgift Centre but if I want to buy things that other people don’t have; probably Westfield.

Favorite brand?

I actually do not have a favorite brand. I love Nike though.

Fashion No No?

I don’t like Boots, not me at all.

Trademark Look?

Skinny jeans, bright top or a statement top and a nice pair of kicks.

Can you summarize Wilfred Zaha in 3 words?

Humble, struggle because I have been through a lot to get to where I am and success is my last word.

Ultimate goal

To be one of the best footballers in the world. That is when I will know I have actually made it. Until then I will keep working hard. I have my head focused on football now.


Yin: Right back to me, I had the pleasure of heading up to Bramhall the week before last with my other half to interview Zaha at his house. Crazy. It’s not even his proper house, temporary accommodation while he gets settled and finds his own place closer to Carrington – the United training ground. The house definitely felt like walking into MTV Cribs set – big, spacious, fancy cars and all that jazz. As soon as we arrived at the location, his older brother recognised my face from the previous interview which was good, a familiar face will make the interview more comfortable.

All the photographs above are all from this interview as opposed to the first one for brand reasons which I’m sure you’ll understand. Plus it makes the feature flow better with a consistency. You may have noticed the fussball game in the images above, Wilfried was playing against my girlfriend and guess who won? She did. 3-2. Boom. That’ll be her claim to fame when he wins the CL with United/World Cup with England next year. Never know yo.

It’s been around 6-7 months since we first met back in London. How much has your life changed in that time?

 Not really that much, I’ve just become a lot more popular as you do when you move to a club like United and play for them. Much more attention falls on you and it’s helped me get into the England squad.

Has it not been overwhelming at all?

Yes it has been, like when we went on tour and stuff, the fans were crazy. Especially in Asia where I thought fans wouldn’t have a clue who I was still wanted my signature, they would get escorted by security just to get us. It’s just a whole different level of attention that falls on you.

Everyday life must be much more difficult now.

Personally I’m still the same old Wilfried, I still get up in the morning and go to Trafford Centre when I need to get bits and bobs. It’s obviously not as easy as it used to be as I can’t walk around without someone just running up looking for a picture.

Looking back at our last interview, we asked you about style, favourite restaurants and taste. Have they changed since the big move?

Nope, not at all, I’m still into the same things. I’m not changing even though my environment has.

As a man of faith, how hard has it been to adapt to the big club life, media attention and such.

It’s not hard at all if you’re grounded in your faith. It doesn’t change anything for me, I still pray to God when I get a chance – when I wake up and when I go to bed I pray.

What challenges have you had to overcome?

I think one key challenge has been social media and critics. Not listening to the many critics out there; out of a 1000 people, the majority will say well done, but I’ll end up listening to that one person who’ll say you’re crap.  That is one thing I’ve definitely overcome, not listening to those critics by just keeping my head down and not retaliating.

Since moving away from your home in London, how difficult has it been to find the balance between work and home life?

I come back home from training and Ive not got much to do. I’ll just be sitting here playing career mode on FIFA by myself.

Haha, do you play as yourself?

I did for a bit but the excitement fades after a while and it gets boring. So now I’m just the manager.

There’s not much to do here, in some ways it’s a blessing in disguise as it helps me stay focused on the work I need to put in. It’s a different level of discipline and effort that’s needed from me so I’m happy there aren’t much distractions.  Here in Manchester, I don’t really know anyone, it’s just training, more training and when I get back I just chill.

Revisiting music questions, what do you listen to now:

J. Cole, Jay-Z, Kanye West and a couple afrobeats artists but don’t really know the artists names because they’re too long to remember.

Most people have a mantra or saying that helps the get up in the morning and do what they do. What’s yours?

I don’t really have one to be fair, I’m just grateful to be making a living from doing what I love and that’s playing football.

Wilfred Zaha is wearing the Nike Sportswear Tech Fleece collection available now at www.nike.com

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