Sir Alex Ferguson’s task in his final signing of his Manchester United reign was to bring some youth into the squad that would hopefully grow into an attacking superstar and help replace the ever present United icon Ryan Giggs, that player was 19yr old Wilfred Zaha.
Signed from Crystal Palace for an initial £10m in January 2013, he was then loaned straight back for the remainder of the season, there Zaha helped the eagles gain promotion from the championship, earning the penalty in the playoff final with Watford which resulted in palace winning 1-0 and returning to the premiership.
Zaha made his Manchester United debut in the community shield, a 61 minute display ending in a 2-0 victory for the red devils and giving Zaha his first piece of silverware. That was as good as it got at United, Zaha only made 2 more appearances and was once again sent out on loan, this time to Cardiff City. The following year he was loaned out for the entire season to Crystal Palace.
Zaha was plagued from the very start in his United career, having turned up for the reds pre season tour flight to Thailand in jeans and a t-shirt instead of a club tracksuit which he had to change in to at the airport. This was followed by rumour’s that he had slept with new manager David Moyes daughter, a rumour that never went away and soured his relationship with the Scot. Zaha was never fancied by the new United management team and was eventually sold to Crystal Palace for £3m, a fraction of what United paid only 2 years earlier.
While at Manchester United, zaha’s incredible pace and skill were often commented on but ultimately it was the wingers lack of end product and inability to transfer the managers instructions to the pitch that ended his Old Trafford adventure, he has since admitted his immaturity, maybe it was a case of too much too soon?.
Since making the permanent move to his boyhood club Crystal Palace, the only way has been up for Zaha. In the 2015/16 season he made 34 appearances, scoring 2 goals. Zaha clearly benefitted from the love shown by Palace boss Alan Pardew, gaining playing time and experience the rough diamond started to shine. Zaha’s blistering pace and mazy runs down the wing created many chances and made his doubters pay attention and question wether United were right in letting the talented winger go. Palace finished the season in 15th place and reached the FA Cup final where they faced…Manchester United. The eagles performed well and pushed the game into extra time but try as they might palace and Zaha couldn’t stop United winning 2-1. That season Zaha won the Crystal Palace player of the year trophy.
By now the Ivorian had experience and learned how to turn potential in to fruition, he was stronger both physically and mentally after the United ordeal. Zaha was giving defenders twisted blood with his turning and dribbling and was Palace most exciting player. In having Pardew and then Sam Allardyce both heaping praise on him and developing him through his youth he became a more reliable and adult player, he also won the player of the year award for the second year running, showing his continued growth and importance to the team.
Zaha went from an exciting young talent to star player.He’s dealt with different types of managers in Pardew, Allardyce, De Boer and now Roy Hodgson.Differnet tactics, a relegation dogfight in which Zaha scored the goal that kept Palace in the premiership and relegated Hull City. He’s matured with hard work, and having a chip on his shoulder to prove his detractors wrong, his performances on the pitch show he’s done this.
Cut to this season, the eagles have struggled but Zaha has been one of the only positives, when he plays they have a chance but more often than not if Zaha is injured Palace draw or lose, he’s that instrumental to the eagles chances.
Tonight Zaha faces Manchester United again and with the red devils lack of a genuine wide man, can he once again show United what they missed out on?
Wayne Edge @oasis1711