“He is so unique. He is an untouched, pure talent. I’ve never worked with anyone like him – he just wants to get the ball and beat people, however many there are, he can do it.”
As far as ringing endorsements go, Ian Holloway’s opinion on Wilfried Zaha takes the cake and the whole pastry shop.
Not that Palace fans were shy in declaring their love for Zaha, erecting a massive banner outside Selhurst Park telling any visiting fan “He’s Just Too Good for You” or simply alerting scouts to keep an eye on him. When you reach that extent of highlighting a talented player, you’ve only have yourselves to blame when he leaves…not that Palace fans aren’t used to that.
The young forward’s stock has quickly risen since his England call up, not to mention fan boy Neil Ashton repeatedly telling his 72,000 followers just how good Zaha is. With the media speculation, not to mention some impressive performances, it has been impossible for people not to take an interest in the man who grew up in south London.
After a fantastic start to the season, Zaha was a surprise inclusion in Roy Hodgson’s squad for England’s friendly against Sweden. However, his international debut was short lived with a mere five minutes on the pitch in the wake of Zlatan FC single-handedly embarrassing the national side.
It wasn’t the showcase everyone expected, yet it hasn’t stopped the media from labelling the youngster an England international, forgetting the limited amount of time he actually spent on the pitch. This didn’t stop the red-tops unanimously electing Zaha as the “Next Big Thing in English Football”, an accolade that has devastating effects on the careers of its previous receivers.
Zaha’s growing reputation was confirmed after Roy Hodgson’s decision to award Zaha his first call-up brought Didier Drogba to hold talks with the youngster about his international future. ‘Wilf’ is still eligible to play for the Ivory Coast should he decide to do so and maybe he is a player that Drogba saw as the successor to his thrown.
All this could have gone to the youngsters head and Zaha’s confident – some might say cocky – approach was not unexpected in the wake of such buzz.
The 20-year-old told journalists in November: “I want to come up against defenders who will properly test me. I’d never look at someone and think he’s better than me, unless it’s Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. When I get on the pitch it’s my time.” So there you have it, unless you’re a Ballon D’or candidate (not Iniesta), Zaha reckons he’s on par.
It’s fitting that Zaha’s first match against Premier League competition was Manchester United, where the lesser da Silva twin was charged with the task of marking him. Fabio was left with a strained hamstring and then sent off to QPR. No one would have guessed from that performance, but Zaha “was so nervous for that game” before realising he was there for a reason.
Crystal Palace have secured a reported £15M (including add-ons) deal for Zaha with the bonus of him remaining at the London club until summer. This comes only a few months after Wigan reportedly weren’t prepared to pay £3.5M for the Ivory Coast-born forward.
Zaha has come along way considering as little as three years ago, Zaha would regularly be benched waiting for his chance to shine.
By the age of 20, Zaha has survived administration, a relegation battle, played in a cup semi-final and beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford, arguably an impressive CV for a player his age which goes to explain why he has been one of the most sought-after players in this transfer window.
“I feel this is a great deal for the club and the player,” quipped Palace co-chairman Steve Parish and who can blame him. Palace have will see £10m plus add ons poured in the coffers for a great prospect, but a player who’s still totally unproven at the top level.
Without wanting to sound disrespectful, it’s not everyday that second tier players command fee in the region of Zaha’s, and when you consider that Palace had lost Nathaniel Clyne, Wayne Routledge and John Bostock for a combined fee of £6.9m, their decision to part with the player is perfectly understandable, even if Zaha matures into the player he seems destined to be.
Their is no doubt Palace accepted Wilfred Zaha was leaving some time ago and they couldn’t lose a talented young player they had invested in for minimal fees again. To the cynics amongst us, all the hype, all the comments, point towards a calculated PR effort to maximise the players value – has Fergie really signed a rising superstar or will Zaha just become another Eric Djemba-Djemba?
Many in the media have defended Fergie’s choice to sign Zaha by pointing at Ashley Young’s injury problems, Antonio Valencia’s poor form and Nani’s petulance, but the notion is quickly dismissed by the fact that the Palace winger will only join his new club in July, hence having no bearings whatsoever in United’s fortunes this season.
“We like to sign young players with potential, we always feel we can develop players well here. That’s been proved to be the case many times and we hope the boy will enjoy it here when he eventually comes,” explained Sir Alex Ferguson.
Rafael, Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans are the latest examples of United’s youth-centered philosophy, but players like Nick Powell are a prime example of how hard it can be for talented youngsters to break into the team at Old Trafford.
There is no doubt Zaha has a raw talent. He is a player that spent time working out his tricks with nothing more than a tennis ball in his room, working on drag-backs and copying Ronaldinho. The close control and general mugging-off of defenders have lead to threats and the odd smashing. His exceptional control and movement make him near impossible to mark but he’ll have to brace himself for a complete different challenge next season.
Being catapulted from the Championship to a team where excellence is demanded on a daily basis is a massive step for any player, however talented. Zaha will no longer be the focal point of the team and will have to fight for his spot, but his price tag and the fact that he’ll be playing in front of 76,000 people week after week will hardly ease the pressure on him.
Back in November, the young forward said “When the time comes, I’ll make a choice. For now, I just want to reach the top. I’m not saying I want to leave Palace but the Premier League’s where I want to get to eventually”. The choice has been made, but time will tell whether this is the right choice for Wilfred Zaha.
What is your view on the signing of Zaha? Are you a Manchester United fan excited about his arrival? Is he that good Palace fans? Which club got the better deal?