Wilfred Zaha’s loan stint with Crystal Palace appears to be the attacking midfielder’s last chance to re-ignite a career at Manchester United.
Zaha, signed by the Red Devils for £15m from the Eagles in January 2013, has failed to match the hype in his Old Trafford career thus far. Louis Van Gaal does not come across as a fan of the young Englishmen, who has thrived since returning to the Eagles. This loan stint provides a last chance for Zaha to show he is deserving of another opportunity at Manchester United, and early signs suggest there is every chance of him taking this.
New Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew has spoken highly of Zaha, who is starting to repay this faith and his obvious ability. The England international can be far more than a promising young English attacker who failed to match his potential – Zaha would not be the first. His ability could take the starlet to the top.
However, if Zaha cannot consistently impress at Palace across the rest of this campaign, his Manchester United career could be over before it begins. He arrived riding the crest of the wave, after dragging Palace to Premier League promotion, most notably through scoring two goals to defeat arch rivals Brighton and Hove Albion in the Championship play-off semi-final clash.
Zaha was Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signing as United boss but is yet to match the vast expectation under which he arrived – those close to Old Trafford say under the intensity of training at the Red Devils Zaha struggled.
In hindsight, another year playing regularly at Crystal Palace in the Premier League would have been ideal in allowing Zaha to display his talent at the highest level.
The attacking midfielder’s return to Palace is already showing promising signings, particularly since the arrival of Alan Pardew, who favours a more attacking style of football than his predecessor, Neil Warnock. Zaha scored against Newcastle but struggled for form and end product thereafter, leading to being benched in the last two games of Warnock’s reign.
One should not allow recent disappointments to distort the historical narrative of Zaha’s career – this is an outstanding talent who has not fully adjusted to the Premier League yet. That is perfectly natural.
However, those who saw Zaha tear apart the Championship are now eager to see this form replicated in the higher division, with the early signs under Alan Pardew promising. The ex-Newcastle manager’s arrival has seen the 22 year-old show a dramatic upturn in form, reflected by a faith that led to Pardew trying to sign Zaha when leading the Geordies.
Pardew knows Zaha is a match winner, seen by an excellent cameo from the bench in the home win over Tottenham, showing the confidence on the ball that initially secured his move to Manchester United. Zaha assisted the winning goal from Jason Puncheon, and has since admitted that returning permanently to Palace would be “great” and has enjoyed being “in and around the family.”
The midfielder appears to have a supportive manager in Pardew, who recently said: “In terms of finding himself at perhaps the biggest club in the world bar one or two, and not getting an opportunity and having to come back to his former club – I think that’s difficult”
This will certainly increase the possibility of a permanent return to Selhurst Park for the Palace academy graduate, something few fans would have expected to see just 18 months after leaving for Old Trafford.
The rest of this season represents Zaha’s last chance to ensure another opportunity at Manchester United, though the call of Crystal Palace and home may prove irresistible regardless.