Boy aged 12 ar­rested over Zaha abuse

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By John Percy

West Mid­lands Po­lice have ar­rested a 12-year-old boy af­ter Wil­fried Zaha was sub­jected to vile racist abuse on so­cial me­dia.

Zaha re­vealed be­fore Crys­tal Palace’s game at As­ton Villa yes­ter­day that he had re­ceived sev­eral mes­sages from some­one who said they were a Villa sup­porter, which in­cluded a pic­ture of a Ku Klux Klan gath­er­ing.

The Pre­mier League, which has been sup­port­ing the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment with slo­gans on the back of play­ers’ shirts and in sta­di­ums, branded the abuse “com­pletely un­ac­cept­able”.

A new on­line sys­tem to al­low Pre­mier League play­ers to re­port abuse has also been launched.

Palace con­demned the mes­sages, while Villa pledged to im­pose a life­time ban on the sup­porter.

West Mid­lands Po­lice con­firmed that a young­ster from Soli­hull had been taken into cus­tody yes­ter­day af­ter­noon.

Prior to be­ing told about the age of the sus­pect, Roy Hodg­son, the Palace man­ager, said: “Wil­fried is very un­happy and he’s en­ti­tled to feel like that.

“It’s very sad that peo­ple re­sort to this type of abuse, and it’s too sim­ple for peo­ple to hide be­hind web­sites mak­ing vile and de­spi­ca­ble com­ments.

“Ev­ery­one seems to be mak­ing such an ef­fort to erad­i­cate this be­hav­iour. It’s very sad that, on the day of a game, a player should wake up to this cow­ardly and de­spi­ca­ble abuse. The pun­ish­ment can­not be se­vere enough, and this dis­crim­i­na­tion has gone on for too long.

“Our club, As­ton Villa and the Pre­mier League are do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to find out who this de­spi­ca­ble in­di­vid­ual is, and one can only hope he will get iden­ti­fied and called to ac­count.”

The Pre­mier League posted a mes­sage on its so­cial me­dia ac­count which read: “This be­hav­iour is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able and the Pre­mier League stands along­side Wil­fried Zaha in op­pos­ing this, and dis­crim­i­na­tion in any form.”

Per­haps that final day of the Pre­mier League sea­son at West Ham United might be sig­nif­i­cant for As­ton Villa and Jack Gre­al­ish af­ter all.

Villa’s hopes of se­cur­ing a mirac­u­lous es­cape are still flick­er­ing, al­beit faintly, and the fact that a team win­ning their first league game since Jan 21 have a chance of stay­ing up is re­mark­able in it­self.

Trezeguet, one of the play­ers signed in the sum­mer’s £127 mil­lion spend, scored both goals to leave Villa four points adrift of safety af­ter cap­i­tal­is­ing on an­other Var de­ba­cle early in the game.

Ma­madou Sakho, the Palace de­fender, was judged to have han­dled the ball by Jonathan Moss at Stock­ley Park af­ter scor­ing in the sev­enth minute, but re­plays clearly showed it struck his shoul­der be­fore go­ing over the line. Villa re­sponded to that let-off, with Trezeguet’s two goals breath­ing fresh hope into their sur­vival mis­sion. Palace for­ward Chris­tian Ben­teke was sent off af­ter the final whis­tle for kick­ing out at Ezri Konsa.

With three games of this trun­cated sea­son left, Dean Smith, the Villa man­ager, will need more per­for­mances like this from Gre­al­ish.

Even be­fore the sea­son was paused, Gre­al­ish was strug­gling to im­pose him­self on games, yet this was his best dis­play since the restart to of­fer Villa some room for op­ti­mism.

Play­ing on the left of a front three, and fre­quently float­ing into the mid­dle, he was a shim­mer­ing me­nace for much of the af­ter­noon.

He was also the cen­tral fig­ure in an­other Var con­tro­versy in the sec­ond half, when he was fouled by Pa­trick van Aan­holt in the penalty area, but the de­ci­sion was again over­turned.

The huge pos­i­tive for Villa was that Gre­al­ish ap­peared far more in­volved and in­flu­en­tial than at any time since the sea­son re­sumed.

Smith said: “This was a much more ma­ture performanc­e from Jack, he got on the ball and made things hap­pen.

“Jack doesn’t get over­awed or ner­vous about any­thing. That’s just the way he’s made. It’s not just hap­pened [for him].

“This was our first semi-final and we needed to win it, we can only put score­board pres­sure on the teams above us. We can’t con­trol what hap­pens around us.”

Gre­al­ish’s as­so­ci­a­tion with Villa be­gan at the age of six, so there will be few other play­ers in that dress­ing room who will be feel­ing so keenly the pain of this dif­fi­cult cam­paign.

As a boy, he used to jump into the bushes of the fam­ily gar­den, pre­tend­ing he had just scored the win­ning goal in front of the tow­er­ing Holte End.

Gre­al­ish has been on the radar of Manch­ester United this sea­son, but the full fo­cus for the 24-year-old has to be on drag­ging his beloved club out of dan­ger.

He played his part in a de­served vic­tory, and Trezeguet’s goal deep into first-half in­jury time was the first from an at­tack­ing Villa player for more than 14 hours in the league. That alarm­ing statis­tic only un­der­lines why Smith’s side are in­volved in a rel­e­ga­tion scrap.

Villa’s last league win was in the dy­ing stages of their home game against Wat­ford on a cold night in Jan­uary and they re­main deep in trou­ble, but at least this was a pos­i­tive sign.

Palace are safe from rel­e­ga­tion, 12 points ahead of Villa, but this was a fifth suc­ces­sive de­feat for Roy Hodg­son, who de­scribed the de­feat as “in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing”.

The be­wil­der­ing de­ci­sion to dis­al­low Sakho’s goal set the tone and Ben­teke will miss the re­main­der of the sea­son fol­low­ing his dis­missal for vi­o­lent con­duct.

Hodg­son, the Palace man­ager, said: “This is a bad spell in terms of re­sults and all we can do is keep play­ing. We’ve got Manch­ester United next and we will need to take the game to them.”

Tar­geted: Crys­tal Palace’s Wil­fried Zaha re­ceived a string of racist mes­sages from an al­leged As­ton Villa sup­porter

Ref­eree Martin Atkin­son def­i­nitely got this one wrong and was saved by Var. Jack Gre­al­ish’s dra­matic fall was a clear act of sim­u­la­tion. The Villa player was guilty of ex­ag­ger­a­tion and should have been booked. I was sur­prised that Martin gave the penalty as he has been Mr Re­li­able this sea­son and I thought he had a clear view of the in­ci­dent. Gre­al­ish ap­peared to step on the de­fender’s foot and then threw him­self to the floor. A yel­low card would have been de­served.

Why did Var get in­volved? Why are we rul­ing out a per­fectly good goal? This was not a clear and ob­vi­ous er­ror. The goal should have stood. Ma­madou Sakho rose to head the ball and it went in off the top of his shoul­der. The rule on ac­ci­den­tal hand­ball at the mo­ment is an ass. Next sea­son it will be clearer. The ball was nearer to the top of the head rather than the shoul­der. Crys­tal Palace should have been 1-0 up af­ter seven min­utes. It was a goal.

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