As a Crystal Palace supporter there are few greater pleasures than watching the club’s plethora of academy starlets flaunt their potential on the Selhurst Park stage. The latest name to grace this illustrious list is Wilfried Zaha, a mesmerising 19-year-old blessed with the pace, tenacity and portfolio of tricks that has planted numerous Championship defenders on their backside.
The cries of “he’s just too good for you” greet his every performance but there is an inevitable feeling that soon, he will be too good for us. The swarm of potential top-flight suitors grows by the day, but which club would actually represent a positive step-up for the England U’21 international?
First of all I feel the need to eliminate both Manchester clubs, despite the fact they comfortably possess the financial wealth needed to meet his rapidly increasing transfer value.
At United, the youthful Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez still have their best years ahead of them and the arrival of Robin van Persie has drastically reduced their first-team opportunities. Sir Alex Ferguson also has the recent purchases of Angelo Henriquez and Nick Powell waiting patiently on the sidelines should the team endure an injury crisis at the other end of the pitch.
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Roberto Mancini has four world-class strikers vying for a place in his starting XI as well as John Guidetti, who is already being compared to the legendary Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Citizens have also recently acquired former Swansea favourite Scott Sinclair, a player who shares a number of the same attacking traits as young Zaha.
The most realistic and perhaps desired destination appears to be with Arsenal. Now I am no detective, but the tweets “Omgggg love it #Arsenal” and “YEESSSSSSSSS! (Y)” that popped up on Zaha’s timeline during the comeback against Reading would appear to suggest a certain affinity towards the Gunners. However, I cannot see how a move to North London would be beneficial to his career.
There is no denying that Arsene Wenger has a wealth of knowledge and a history of rearing some of the beautiful game’s finest young talents. But the current saga surrounding Theo Walcott should provide all the evidence needed to deter Zaha. Like Walcott, Zaha is a winger-turned-striker who is unlikely to fit the bill as Wenger’s preferred robust and solitary target man.
At present there doesn’t seem to be room in Arsenal’s strike force for one, let alone two gifted speed merchants and even if Zaha decides to revert to his former role as a winger then he will have to compete with the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the rapidly improving Serge Gnabry and Ryo Miyaichi. Some would call this healthy competition; I would say its career suicide.
As much as it pains me to say so, I believe the best option for Zaha could lie in the red half of Merseyside. Brendan Rodgers has already conveyed his faith in the adolescent members of his squad and it’s fair to say that there is a vacancy in the Red’s existing strike force. The new playing style currently being implemented would present a fantastic new chapter in his development and the prospect of Raheem Sterling and Zaha flanking Luis Suarez is giving me involuntary goosebumps.
Newcastle have sent Peter Beardsley to watch our young starlet on a number occasions, including – much to my delight – a fixture when he wasn’t even playing, but I doubt they have the financial clout to compete with the big boys, especially if they are reserving funds to execute a rescue mission for Andy Carroll.
Tottenham will always be linked with the latest product from the Palace production line despite their uncanny ability to stifle emerging talent (see Wayne Routledge and John Bostock). Chairman Daniel Levy will view Zaha as an attractive investment, but he’s unlikely to be able to wave his magic bargaining wand on this occasion.
I would implore Zaha to copy the career path of the recently departed Nathaniel Clyne. The promising full-back ignored potential interest from a number of big teams and instead decided to sign for Premier League newcomers Southampton. His decision to move to the South Coast will mean he is guaranteed a prominent role in the senior squad, in a team that plays a seductive brand of football. If Zaha could emulate such a move, at say Swansea, then he could develop further as player and earn his big move, much in the same manner as Victor Moses.
Fans, journalists and even porky comedians have been climbing over one another to announce that Zaha isn’t worth the £20m price tag he’s been bestowed with. I will happily agree, in the same way that Jordan Henderson isn’t worth the same amount and Andy Carroll isn’t the equivalent of three and a half Papiss Cisses. The fact is, transfer fees are dictated by how much the player is worth to their particular football club and in this case Zaha could make all the difference be securing promotion. I think that means he’s worth £60m…
Dougie Freedman’s departure has thrown Zaha’s future into a state of jeopardy, considering the Scot has been influential in his upbringing so far. However, chairman Steve Parish has repeatedly reiterated his “special talent” is not for sale, especially with the club trying to establish itself as an attractive option for a new manager.
Zaha is destined for the top, his superb brace against Wolves last month is testament ability to win games all on his own. I remain optimistic if a little unconvinced that Palace can mount a serious playoff charge this year. However, the message is clear, if you want to secure his signature, you had better offer a significant number of zeros.
Join me on Twitter @theunusedsub where I am anxiously awaiting the possible arrival of Ian Holloway