As much as Deadline Day is built up and hyped to the rafters by media outlets and footballs fans alike, the surprises are in fact in short supply. Wilfried Zaha returning to Crystal Palace on a permanent transfer after a disappointing two years at Manchester United was not one of them. His move to the Eagles for £3m, just a fraction of the £20m United paid for him in January 2013, however, says it all.
On the surface, it would appear that Zaha was never given a chance at Old Trafford; indeed, he only made two appearances for the club and spent the vast majority of his time out on loan at Palace and Cardiff City. It is a situation that looks strange when you see Zaha play: a 22-year-old winger with bags of pace and plenty of skill to boot. So why was he not given more chance to excel for the Red Devils?
Sadly, it seems a case of the player’s own attitude holding him back from fulfilling his potential. For whatever reason, Zaha was never fully comfortable at United, whether it was in the final days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure, or David Moyes’ fateful season in charge. Constant reports surfaced of his lack of maturity or drive in training; famously, he was the only player in the entire squad that chose not to attend a voluntary training session under Louis Van Gaal. Not the best way to endear yourself to your new manager.
It is indicative of how bad the relationship between Zaha and the club has deteriorated, that United sold him for a staggering loss of £17m after just two appearances in the same amount of years. Zaha is still young and the suggestion that he could bounce back in his career would not be a ridiculous assumption. That Van Gaal and United did not feel that the risk was worth the rewards is astonishing: it is clear that the club wanted to cut ties with a fractious individual that was causing too many problems.
Noises coming out of Selhurst Park, however, have always been overwhelmingly positive; never once has there been the suggestion that Zaha is an immature individual not willing to show some effort. Did his ego swell when he made his big-money move to an elite club? Perhaps. The idea that a player has ‘made it’ has the potential to diminish the hard work put in to get there in the first place.
That being said, Zaha now returns home – an Eagle flying back to his nest. Selhurst Park has always been where he feels at ease, and after moving there on a permanent basis he now has the opportunity to re-start his career. Being just 22-years-old, Zaha potentially still has a bright future ahead of him – if he knuckles down.
Rejection from United does not mean that he will never play for a big club, as indeed some critics have suggested. The football world is a fickle one and opinions change with the wind. Right now Zaha would be considered a risk; he is raw and lacks the drive to make it at the top level. However, that is not to say that two or three solid years for the Eagles won’t make all the difference. Now settled, the young Englishman now has the opportunity for a fresh start – and who is to say he won’t make the most of it?