It’s a pretty risky article to write on the day that the lad could make a blinding debut for England. But, even in an era of excessive superlatives, has there ever been a more over hyped player than Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha? He’s reportedly on the radar of Manchester United, amongst others, but is he really all that?
I’m sure he could turn out to be an excellent player. But it’s at least as likely that he is just the latest flash in the pan. The latest X Factor winner. A player who starts his career well but never realises the potential that the sensationalists clamour to attribute to him. Yet another English winger who is fast but lacks genuine top drawer technique, vision and final ball – a footballer who may have been better served in the world of athletics. So is he really worthy of a Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea shirt?
When I look at Zaha, I see a player with confidence, pace and power, who is doing well against Championship defences. Sure he’s got a trick. One trick. A step over/ball shimmy between the legs which currently baffles players from the second tier. But this won’t wash for very long against a top team like Manchester United or Chelsea.
Is Zaha a truly graceful player? Does he have genuine guile or just gallons of gumption? Is he really so fleet of foot and full of flair and imagination that he will turn out better than Downing, Walcott, Young, Lennon, Pennant, Adam Johnson and the rest of the slightly disappointing English wide men of the last decade? Wingers who can do a decent job, but pale in comparison to really top international players, who have an altogether higher level of skill and football intelligence. Players who can change a game by themselves.
I say no. I say Zaha is decent but Tom Ince, for example, offers the real hope for the future. Ince, another Manchester United target, looks to me like he has real invention and skill on the ball. Conversely, when you view a Zaha highlights package on YouTube, you are mainly seeing ricochets, moves that nearly come off, half decent crosses, and Zaha doing little more than bundling the ball past opposition players. If these are the highlights then one can only imagine the lowlights. Could he play in The Premier League? Probably. Could he play for the Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea? Well he might be ‘stacked and racked’ by one of them, as Palace boss Ian Holloway suggested. But whether he would excel at such a club and at such a level is highly debatable.
I’m all for encouraging English players. We need as many as possible playing week in, week out in The Premier League. Hopefully the lad will go on to exceed my cynical expectations.
But perhaps Zaha is just another product of a failing English football system that prioritises athleticism and power over skill and ball control – the genuine wizardry that we all crave and that our clubs pay so much money for from abroad.
We’d love to hear from some Palace fans on this one. Do you think that Zaha is a cut above other recent prodigies? Or is this current hype simply hopeful speculation by a nation with a desperate dearth of top tier talent?
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