Ok, hands up. soccersweep got it wrong. About 6 months ago Wilfried Zaha was selected for the England squad and yours truly expressed serious misgivings about the hype surrounding the then Crystal Palace player.
It wasn’t that we thought he was total pants. It just seemed that the lad was being heralded as the next England saviour before even kicking a ball in The Prem. What’s more, highlights of Zaha showed a player who had a stepover like a nervous tick, and not much more. The article drew angry responses from The Crystal Palace faithful who assured us, in no uncertain terms, that this guy was the real deal. Then Manchester United signed him for £15m and we were forced to revisit our opinion.
Zaha had a decent 2nd half to the season at Crystal Palace. But then he exploded in the play-off semi-final, scoring twice in the second leg to see his side through. This provided the perfect opportunity to see the boy up close in the final at Wembley.
And what a performance he gave. After 120 minutes we were left in no doubt at all that this guy is the real deal. Zaha has been unfairly likened to Nani in some quarters – full of tricks but no end product. But, having seen Zaha play against Watford, it’s clear that they are stylistically very different. Yes, Zaha still loves a stepover, but there is so much more to his dribbling skill. With far too much flair for an Englishman, he had both full backs on toast, as he switched wings to great effect leaving them both feeling sea-sick way before full-time. He must have beaten the opposing defenders in 20 different ways over the course of the match. His feet are so quick that sometimes it’s difficult to see the actual trick. We will all need many slo-mo replays of this guy over the years to understand what just happened.
But it’s not just his dribbling that impressed. The new Manchester United man defended with great enthusiasm, made some excellent runs down the centre and hit one 50 yard through ball that would have had David Beckham and Paul Scholes weeping with delight. He showed pace, hunger and strength in abundance. And, crucially, he also possesses obvious football intelligence. With only 12 goals in 110 games for The Eagles, Zaha will need to find the net more regularly for Manchester United, but it’s his assists which have impressed. At Wembley he was head and shoulders above the rest and made the crucial intervention in the contest by winning the decisive penalty with a typically assertive and silky run into the area.
Manchester United fans have been concerned about their wide options after below average seasons from Valencia, Young and Nani. Most want to see heavy investment in those areas. But in Wilfried Zaha, we genuinely believe that Manchester United have bought a player who will nail down a first team place almost immediately.
It’s way too early to say whether Zaha is a world-class talent. But he is certainly in that very rare band of players who has the potential to reach that category. If coached correctly Zaha will be a world-beater. Zaha’s potential is frightening and Fergie’s last signing may just prove to be one of his very best.
You can see Manchester United’s new star in action for the England U21s in Israel at EURO 2013. They kick off against Italy on June 5th.
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