Under the stewardship of then Eagles manager Dougie Freedman, the Ivorian-born winger was making astronomical progress, so much as to quickly establish himself beyond doubt as the Championship’s hottest property.
Barely a year later though, the England Under-21’s future is shrouded in uncertainty, as his ongoing failure to secure a place in the Manchester United first team fuels speculation regarding his next move.
Yet this was a journey many thought couldn’t go wrong.
Having secured a £15m switch to the soon-to-be Premier League champions, still under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson, a place among football’s elite beckoned.
An initial loan straight back to Palace, though at times a tad uninspiring, proved ultimately triumphant, he shone in his home club’s play-off fixtures as they were promoted to the top flight.
In his place as the last Ferguson signing, it seemed the youngster represented the future of United, a prospect that increasingly appears to have been stillborn in reality.
That is not to say that Zaha himself has done anything to limit his own opportunities at Old Trafford. Indeed, impressive performances against the likes of Wigan and Sevilla in pre-season, served merely to heighten the anticipation ahead of his arrival in England’s highest tier.
But somewhere along the line, however, things appear to have gone slightly awry. As the season approaches its third month of competition, the wide-man is yet to secure a competitive appearance, with the suggestion of a start having been practically non-existent.
Had the Red Devils exploded out of the blocks under new boss David Moyes, perhaps this ‘biding-our-time’ rhetoric that the Scot continually feeds to baffled journalists in relation to Zaha might have perhaps met with a more receptive air. Given the stuttering form exhibited thus far, though, the ongoing omission of one of England’s brightest young talents appears slightly puzzling.
If he had not proven himself at Championship level, like former Palace starlet turned nearly-man John Bostock, then the notion that he must develop behind the scenes at Old Trafford might, similarly, have been justified.
But considering the 125 appearances and 15 goals he notched up whilst in South London, again his failure to merit any Premier League playing time is something of a mystery.
Indeed, the $64,000 question is whether the move to Manchester was in fact right at all.
It was no secret that a host of sides were interested in securing Zaha’s signature in the January of 2013, Manchester United were one, but on the list were also Arsenal and Liverpool, both of whom have afforded opportunities to young players recently.
And yet, one cannot help but feel that in prospect, United probably seemed like the ultimate springboard to the big time.
In considering the prospective dilemma, it could be opined that the prospect of overhauling the unfavoured Nani and unremarkable Anotonio Valencia, whilst under the developmental eye of one of the best managers of all time, comprised something of a ‘too-good-to-miss’ opportunity.
Compare that to the fortunes of Arsenal, trophyless for eight years and with strength and depth in Zaha’s preferred right-wing position, or Liverpool who’s prospect of silverware seemed then about as likely the return of Mark Lawrenson to the Anfield back-line (it could still happen…) and a move to Ferguson’s side would probably have seemed like a no-brainer.
But the unpredictable nature of David Moyes current tenure in charge at Old Trafford, is something perhaps nobody could have foreseen. The offering of a new five-year deal to Nani, for example, whom his predecessor appeared to have lost all patience with, came more out of left field than a Stewart Downing cross.
Combine that with the apparent ever-lasting patience with a tolerably effective Ashley Young and the prospect of playing Shinji Kagawa in a wide role, which Moyes eluded to yesterday and you have a recipe that nobody in football saw coming.
Furthermore, the emergence of Adnan Januzaj, perhaps Moyes saving grace so far this term, has served to generate harsh comparisons with Zaha that he is yet to have the opportunity to contradict.
That could all change tonight though, with the chance of an appearance possible against Norwich in this evening’s Capital One Cup tie. An eye-catching performance from the winger could place him back in contention for Premiership action at Old Trafford. An understated one, however, is likely to see him loaned out in January.
Did he make a faux pas moving to United? No. He did what was right at the time, but whether it remains right now, though, is a different question entirely.