THE will to keep Wilfried Zaha is there.
Steve Parish treats him like a son, a special case after watching the Crystal Palace forward become one of the Premier League’s most sought-after players.
The annual battle to keep Zaha, the best-paid player in Palace history, is already underway.
To convince Zaha that his future remains in South London, Parish will need his legendary powers of persuasion.
The Palace chairman said: “Wilf wants to play Champions League football — so we’ve got that in common, haven’t we?
“There is a perception with Palace that people can just come along and pay less than market value for our players. That just isn’t going to happen.”
Parish has done a good job of keeping him down the years, buying him back after a tough spell with Manchester United and watching him blossom in red and blue.
We want to progress and the best way of doing that is Wilf in our team
Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish
He has a contract until 2023 but the auction is about to start after Zaha indicated it is time to try his luck at a higher level.
Parish added: “I don’t want Wilf to leave. We want to progress and the best way of doing that is Wilf in our team.
“At the same time, I know you can get boxed into a corner over these things — but he is on a long contract.”
Parish wants to build, to improve on Palace’s 12th-placed finish in the Premier League under Roy Hodgson and reach out for more.
He watches Champions League football in the same way as Zaha, casting envious glances at the way Liverpool and Tottenham reached next month’s final.
EUROPA LEAGUE AIM
Parish’s inspiration is Ajax because he sees similarities in the way the Dutch club develop young talent and give them first-team chances.
Palace are noted for it, with Zaha and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, another exciting product of the Eagles’ talent factory, becoming fixtures in the side.
Parish added: “Ajax would look at us and think we have all this Premier League money but they have to win the Dutch league and a couple of qualifiers to play in the Champions League.
“For a club like Palace, we have to look at the Europa League and think we can play in that.
“We are a London club and we have a massive opportunity here. We are not Aston Villa or Nottingham Forest, we haven’t won a European Cup, but we are playing in the Premier League.
TOTTENHAM THE BLUEPRINT
“I don’t see the point of doing this job if we are just going to finish mid-table and settle for that.
“It’s not bad to finish mid- table but clubs like Ajax have to be an inspiration, in the same way as Tottenham have been an inspiration to English football.”
Tottenham are one of Parish’s reference points. He admires the work of Daniel Levy, the calculating Spurs chairman who finally achieved his ambition when they opened their new £1billion stadium against Palace.
Levy was the driving force behind it, imagining Spurs playing inside a new North London home and then working tirelessly to make sure it happened.
Parish added: “Tottenham haven’t always been what they are today.
“Every Tottenham fan I know was texting me on the night they opened their new stadium and they needed affirmation.
“They didn’t need it. They know what a brilliant stadium they have but they wanted to hear it.
“What an amazing year they have had. They walked into that stadium, they are playing in a Champions League final — that’s what I want for our supporters.”
THE Crystal Palace legends (including SunSport’s Neil Ashton) will play at Selhurst Park today in aid of the Palace for Life Foundation. Kick-off 1pm. Tickets at cpfc.co.uk