Ivory Coast star and former Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou has backed Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha to lead his country to greater heights over the next few years, admitting that the 2018 World Cup may be the last for himself and Gervinho.
The 32-year-old praised the former Manchester United youth teamer’s decision to switch his international allegiance, telling 90min that Zaha is expected to lead the changing of the guard from the old generation to new.
He said: “I think it’s the right decision. Right now there’s no more Didier [Drogba], we are on our last competition, and it will be the last World Cup for me and Gervinho. Well, he’s a little bit younger, but he’ll be the last of our generation.
“Zaha will be the next one, he will take the team to the next level – so for him it’s a good decision. He will be the star of the team at the next World Cup. For him it’s the best decision to come to somewhere they will build the team around him.”
Les Éléphants are facing a tight battle to make it to the 2018 World Cup in Russia but Kalou – who will be 37 by the following tournament in Qatar if it is played, as expected, in the autumn – admitted that one way or another he expected to bow out sooner rather than later, saying: “I think this will be my last one.”
He painted Zaha’s choice of international team as more of a boost for his own side than a blow for England though, explaining: “England are always going to have talent, so you can’t say ‘oh, we miss one player’ because it’s a team game and England will always have players to put in.
“You had Shearer before, then you had Rooney to replace him. Now Rooney is gone, you have Marcus Rashford. For Zaha, I think it was a good idea to come to the Ivory Coast where he’ll have more games and they can build the team around him. For England, they’ll find another player.
Asked for a tip-off on the next promising talent to watch coming out of the Ivory Coast, and African football as a whole, he laughed: “It’s Zaha! It’s him! He’s the new generation, he’s going to take the team for the next five, six years.”