Wilfried Zaha is the archetypal Alex Ferguson signing. Like Chris Smalling, like Phil Jones, like Rafael and Fabio, the then Crystal Palace winger was seen as a talent worth moulding for the future. A heavy outlay, yes, for someone who had never kicked a Premier League ball. But that was Ferguson’s game, and on occasion age didn’t matter.
But this isn’t Ferguson’s team anymore. He has entrusted managerial duties to a man who he believes walks the same path is he. David Moyes, at Everton, made the most of what he had. He dipped into the youth system and made promising players good or very good, capable, certainly, of attracting attention from the Premier League’s biggest clubs, such as Manchester United with Wayne Rooney and Manchester City with Jack Rodwell.
So here’s the question: why is Wilfried Zaha any different?
Can we say with absolute certainty that Zaha is ready for the Premier League, or at least Manchester United? No, because there is no evidence to support one claim or the other. And yet, at 20, Zaha, who has seen regular playing time over the past season in the Championship as well as a call up to the England national team, is watching on as a midfielder two years his junior steals the headlines.
Zaha isn’t a bad player, he has the talent and the potential to become a good Premier League footballer. But the timing hasn’t been right for him at Manchester United. Ferguson could have played Zaha in 50 per cent of the matches so far this season, and win, lose or draw, very little would have been said about his inclusion. Not because Zaha maybe earned his place – though he may have – but rather because Ferguson has earned the right to do as he pleases with his squad.
Moyes doesn’t have that yet. You have to wonder whether he will ever have that at United. He had freedom to dip into the academy at Everton, though that was predominantly due to the fact that he had little option. On one front, his hands were financially tied, while on the other, how can any manager overlook the talents that have come through the Everton ranks?
But at this time, Zaha represents a gamble. Not only is he not Moyes’ signing, but he’s a young, inexperienced player who Moyes simply cannot cater for at present with the mounting pressure. There may be arguments to say Zaha deserves an opportunity because the other wide options have been so dire – and that is fair. But what if it all goes wrong? Moyes doesn’t have the power to bat away aggressive questioning over his squad selection; for the most part, he’s dealing with a lot of that now.
It’s hard to see anything personal in Moyes’ constant decision to overlook Zaha. The United manager has suggested at least twice now that a short-term loan move would be best to aid in the player’s development. But these are still the early days of Moyes’ tenure at United and he’s still very much adjusting to life much further up the mountain than he’s used to. Clearly Zaha is a gamble that Moyes is a reluctant to take.
Is David Moyes right to overlook Wilfried Zaha?
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