In 2012, Wilfried Zaha was touted as one of England’s brightest footballing prospects, winning the Football League’s Young Player of the Year. The flying winger worked his way through the Crystal Palace academy making his big move to Manchester United for approximately £15m in the same year.
Ultimately, Zaha’s time at United was far from the success he would have hoped. Moyes inherited Zaha from Sir Alex Ferguson and gave him only a handful of chances to perform (4 to be precise). The now 23 year old suffered big setbacks at Old Trafford, after being sent out on loan to Cardiff and back to his home club on two separate occasions. He was unable to win favour with the struggling David Moyes. Rumours of a poor work ethic and a bad attitude abounded. In 2015, after 3 unsuccessful seasons on Manchester, Zaha returned back to Crystal Palace on a permanent deal.
However, has the return to Selhurst Park for Zaha led to much personal progression as a young footballer after his dreadful period at United? To some, the characteristics that prevented Zaha becoming a regular for United, still exist playing for the Eagles. Moyes tried to quell some of Zaha’s flair to little success; he remains a show-boater, lacking the consistency that the top sides require. His all-around play is severely limited, and his final touch/finishing ability leave much to be desired. He is a winger known for his running and dribbling, yet this season he has recorded the most failed dribbles of any player; he is extremely wasteful, providing little end product.
Compare Zaha to other young, Premier League wingers and the difference is evident. Everton’s Gerard Deulofeu who has lit the Premier League up this season, providing both assists and finishes with aplomb. Zaha is now 23 and he should be starting to show his true ability. Yet it still remains purely potential. Pardew recognises this and has criticised in press conferences over the season, areas where he can improve. From eradicating diving (receiving a yellow card in the Newcastle game meaning he misses his next fixture), to finishing, to even defensive duties, there are many areas for Zaha to work on in training. Looking ahead to 2016, could he truly challenge for a seat on the plane to France? With players such as Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Barkley ahead of him, it seems unlikely at this stage.
Has Zaha truly not improved over the past year under the tutelage of Alan Pardew? The Ivory Coast-born midfielder’s confidence seems to be slowly returning, and we are almost witnessing a rejuvenation at Crystal Palace. Certain areas of his game do remain lacking, but it seems undeniable that he is becoming a better, all-round footballer with his return to Selhurst Park. Zaha’s skills are most evident with the ball at his feet, running at defenders and taking them on. He might have performed the most failed dribbles of any player, but he has also completed the most dribbles too. The Eagles winger has started to add goals to his repertoire, most recently against Newcastle United in the 5-1 victory. Zaha might not be in the form of his life, but he is beginning to get in his stride, becoming instrumental in Crystal Palace’s successes so far this season. He must truly be one of the first names on Pardew’s team sheets in recent weeks.
These abilities and potential are not new, and were most certainly seen before and while at Manchester United. However, he was never given his chance by Moyes. The progression of these abilities and his performances under Pardew is the very reason he is even being considered for an England call-up. Pardew believes that with a bit more work this season, Zaha could prove an outside chance for a spot at Euro 2016. With the performance of some of England’s attacking players (Wayne Rooney included!), this does not seem so far-fetched.
When players such as Lingard are receiving call-ups to the national side, questions must begin to be asked to Hodgson, “Why not Zaha?”. Zaha is certainly far from the finished article, and at 23 he still has a long way to go to fulfil his touted potential in 2012. However, on his day, he can truly be a worst nightmare for a defender. There are most certainly areas where he needs to improve, but he is a good overall player. Pardew has provided a creative freedom for Zaha at Palace, and he is responding effectively, providing great excitement to the Selhurst Park crowd. Euro 2016 might indeed come too soon for Zaha. However, with Pardew’s tutelage, and a lot more game time over the coming season, there is nothing to say he could not be nurtured into a great talent and a prospect for World Cup 2018.
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