The stage was set for another audition soaked in scrutiny, as Crystal Palace faced Huddersfield Town under the bright lights of the television cameras. With the January transfer window less than a fortnight away, young starlet Wilfried Zaha was once again the talk of the town.
The match commenced in a nightmare fashion for the Eagles when Damien Delaney saw red for an ugly lunge on James Vaughan after just 10 minutes. However, the home side embodied the fading cliché that it’s harder to play against ten men and deservedly took the lead when Zaha combined with his partner in crime Yannick Bolasie to score his fifth goal of the season.
A disappointing 1-1 scoreline failed to disguise another promising performance that saw Zaha awarded Sky Sport’s Man of the Match. After his comments on the game itself, attention swiftly turned to his ambivalent future at Selhurst Park and while the club will be reluctant to let their prize asset leave, could a deal that sees Zaha return on loan be the best option for all parties concerned?
The interest in the 20-year-old is set to reach fever pitch next month with an extensive list of potential suitors growing by the day. Palace chairman Steve Parish has insisted the player will not be sold while the team are pursuing promotion and with the boundaries between success and failure often coming down to the smallest of margins, Zaha’s individual brilliance could well prove the deciding factor.
The £20m valuation may have caused the football community to collectively roll their eyes but the club are finally in a position of financial security in which it doesn’t want or need to sell their best players. The potential for a bidding war is an increasing possibility – especially if Liverpool enter the fray – which means that now could be the perfect opportunity to conduct a lucrative sale, without technically losing the player.
Ian Holloway is clearly growing weary of recycled speculation and may decide to cash in simply to give his tongue a rest, but then again he’s hardly the strong, silent type. No, he is a manager that thrives in the transfer market, sourcing potential bargains to build a team from revived rejects and forgotten talent. If Holloway can attract the likes of Charlie Adam on a shoestring budget, imagine what he could achieve when the purse strings are a little looser.
Much like Lionel Messi, Zaha has enjoyed an extraordinary year and attracts a similar number of terrified defenders every time he receives the ball. His confidence levels and newfound ruthless streak has propelled him into position as the Championship’s finest talent.
However, he has faded slightly since his recognition at international level, a victim of his own success, who is still trying to cope with the expectation and pressure of modern football. Perhaps therefore a confirmed Premier League destination could alleviate the shackles that come with constantly trying to impress, without being thrown into the deep end midway through the season. The discarded talent of players that have moved too soon are littered in every top-flight reserve squad in the country.
Maybe it’s best if Zaha departs the club altogether to make room for the numerous other attacking youngsters lurking on the outskirts of the first-team. The names Jonathan Williams and Kyle De Silva may not resonate on the conscious of the average football fan but they are next in line to carry the homegrown torch at the club.
If or rather when Zaha achieves his big money move, it should make Crystal Palace far more desirable when trying to tie down potential stars. With the threat of the Elite Player Performance Plan, it will be crucial that players understand they too can achieve first-team football and walk a familiar route to the Premier League via the club’s youth academy. Maybe, the term ‘feeder club’ won’t be a negative label one day, especially if the Eagles can build a reputation for selling players at the right time, for the right price.
It seems obvious that any transfer bid received in January will be made infinitely more attractive by the option to keep Zaha until the summer. However, it’s difficult to draw up a list of appealing destinations that would be willing to offer such a clause.
Arsenal are perhaps favourites given the player’s affinity with the club and Arsene Wenger’s act of public admiration. However, he’s likely to be drafted straight into the senior squad, especially if ‘contract rebel’ Theo Walcott departs, but when have the Gunners ever spent the money needed to acquire a high-profile signing? Andrei Arshavin is one name that springs to mind but that move has essentially ended in tears.
Likewise, today’s tabloids suggest Spurs have made the first official contact, which makes this whole affair sound like a boring episode of Star Trek, but Daniel Levy is unlikely to offer a fee north of £10m, which makes his interest rather futile. Manchester City on the other hand have the bank balance to meet the player’s soaring estimation, but why would any youngster even consider descending on Eastlands since watching Adam Johnson’s and Scott Sinclair’s careers grind to a halt.
Manchester United appear the most feasible candidates, given their existing plethora of attacking talent both on the flanks and up front. Sir Alex Ferguson is clearly striving to build a bright future as his retirement date looms ever nearer and I can think of no brighter prospect than Wilfried Zaha.