ON the pitch Wilfried Zaha’s skills are feared by rival football fans.
But supporters from all sides should be applauding the Crystal Palace winger for his amazing work off the field.
For few Premier League stars have reached out to help the community as much as Wilfried has.
This week the nation has been applauding Manchester United and England forward Marcus Rashford, whose selfless campaign got the Government to cough up for free school meals for vulnerable children over the summer.
Yesterday we put the spotlight on other football stars who are also striving to help the less fortunate in society, and today in Day Two, we focus on more of the game’s true heroes — such as Wilfried.
Well before Players Together suggested donating a percentage of their wages to NHS causes, the South London forward was already giving ten per cent of his pay to good causes.
And right at the start of lockdown he offered free accommodation to health workers in the 50 apartments he owns in London.
‘GOD HAS GIVEN ME THIS CHANCE TO HELP’
The 27-year-old, who earns a reported £130,000 a week and is valued at £80million, has also quietly helped young offenders get back on the straight and narrow.
He knows all about life’s hard knocks. He was unable to afford a pair of football boots as a child and has seen friends end up in jail and his older brother Herve caught up in gangs.
Those experiences spurred him on to give something back.
As he puts it: “God has given me this chance to help. We had no handouts growing up.
“Money was tight. Dad did what he could. He got me some trainers, all he could afford. I still played with them on the grass. People made jokes but I didn’t care. It drove me.”
Born in Ivory Coast, West Africa, Wilfried came to Britain when he was four, the eighth of nine children sharing a three-bedroom house in South London. A shortage of space didn’t stop him honing his skills, using a tennis ball to work on tricks in his bedroom.
He joined the Crystal Palace academy aged 12 and his dad Tiende’s battered old car often broke down on the way to training. Once a Palace fan gave them a push.
Realising his son’s potential, his dad instated a 6pm curfew to make sure Wilfried was fresh for football.
Wilfried said: “I’ve had friends and we all thought we’d be footballers, and they’ve gone down a path where it hasn’t worked out, the path for some ending up in jail.”
The ten per cent of his wages that Wilfried donates to charities funds his Zaha Foundation, which has built an orphanage for 100 youngsters in Ivory Coast, provided education programmes and helped widowed women.
‘PEOPLE ARE SO THANKFUL’
When coronavirus struck Africa, the foundation helped to deliver food to people forced to stay at home and educated people on how to combat the disease.
His older sister Carine, who runs the orphanage, said: “As soon as he started playing he wanted to create a foundation. And people are so thankful.”
Back in South London, where Wilfried lives, he has been involved with a Crystal Palace rehabilitation project, the DIVERT Programme, which aims to stop young people reoffending by providing training and education.
Explaining his charitable efforts to help society’s less well off, Wilfried said: “I was fortunate to be good at football. But lots of people feel stuck — that’s the whole problem. That’s why now I give back.”
When Liverpool striker Mo scored the goal that secured his home nation Egypt’s passage into the 2018 World Cup he was offered a villa as a reward.
But he didn’t need such an extravagance, so instead he asked for the money to be donated to the village where he was born.
This is on top of £370,000 he has given towards providing clean water to the community.
The devout Muslim has quietly been helping out those in need, without shouting about his efforts.
Mo, 28, who was named Premier League Player of the Year in 2018 and has scored 91 goals for Liverpool, also donated £2.5million to a cancer institute in Egypt last year.
His foundation gives regular financial support to more than 400 less well-off families in the region.
ROOTED IN THE COMMUNITY
Mo also posted on Instagram his support for the Players Together initiative, raising money for NHS workers during the virus outbreak This year he became an ambassador for a joint programme between Vodafone and the UNHCR – the UN’s refugee agency – to provide digital education for refugee students, due to “the need and importance of quality education for refugee children”.
The striker, who earns around £200,000 a week, knows all too well what a struggle it is to make it to the top. At 13 he made 150-mile round trips by himself several days a week for football training.
In Britain, he is still rooted in the community, and it’s not unusual to see Mo popping out for fish and chips.
When he married his childhood sweetheart Magi in Egypt in 2013 the guest list included 1,000 villagers.
Manchester United’s Spanish playmaker has started a football revolution that could change the world.
Three years ago he co-founded Common Goal, which encourages sports people to donate one per cent of their wages to the charity.
Juan, 32, who earns £140,000 a week, was the first footballer to pledge that amount.
Since then more than 150 others, including Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, have agreed to follow his lead.
Their donations have now reached £1.8million and a further £270,000 has been raised as part of the charity’s Covid-19 response.
The main fund backs six British charities, including the Denis Law Legacy Trust, Street League and Sport4Life UK, while the coronavirus cash has gone towards providing essentials in Hull.
‘FIGHT THIS CRISIS TOGETHER’
Juan said: “We will only beat coronavirus and the next challenges if we remain united and working as a team.
“We need the help of Common Goal members and other players or leaders of the football world to join and fight this crisis together.”
He decided to launch Common Goal after visiting young footballers playing in the slums of Mumbai, India, in 2017.
He was there with his long-term girlfriend Evelina Kamph, who said: “Ever since I met Juan, he has always wanted to do something.
“I am very proud of him because a lot of people think about doing it but to actually put yourself out there is amazing.”
The international charity supports work all around the world.
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