Wilfried Zaha’s old friend from the Crystal Palace academy says the latest England international has the ability to go to the very top.
Nathaniel Pinney, who played alongside Zaha for two years at Palace, now turns out for Carshalton Athletic of the Ryman Premier League, while Zaha grabs all the headlines in the Championship – but there is no jealousy.
Pinney was released by Palace in the summer and after a turbulent few months, including the death of his mother in August, the 21-year-old is finding his way back in football, and it gives him great pride that his old friend is doing so well.
“We were in the academy together for the U18s and although he was two years’ younger than me, he was two age groups higher than he should so have been it was obvious he was doing his stuff from then,” Pinney said.
“He has done really well to get into the senior England squad and for me, he gets nothing but huge respect. I am happy for him.
“He was always on top of his game in training with all the tricks, but what is different about him is that what he does in training, he takes out into the first team on Saturdays.
“You have to give it to him because he pulls it off.”
Despite being selected for the full squad, the friendly status of England's 4-2 defeat to Sweden, in which Zaha made a brief appearance as a substitute, means the youngster could still elect to play for the Ivory Coast, the country of his birth.
But Pinney believes for Zaha to fulfil his full potential he should stay with England.
“If he decides to stay with England I don’t see why he cannot go all the way and become one of the world’s best players,” he said.
“He has that ability and he deserves the best of times.”
Palace academy manager Gary Issott said: “Wilf’s call up is excellent news and recognition of his ability. He has been outstanding for two seasons and has been instrumental in where we are.
“He is only 20, and players don’t really understand football properly until they get to about 23 or 24, so he will get a better understanding of the game as he develops.
“There is more to come from him, I am sure.”
Palace host Derby County in the Championship this weekend.