'Zaha can be a world-beater' – Meet Manchester United's new signing

By James Daly

Overrated. That is a word used too often these days. The Dark Knight Rises was ‘overrated’. Mumford and Sons are ‘overrated’. Modern life in general is ‘overrated’.

And Wilfried Zaha, we are told by many fans, is overrated. But these are people who have seen him play once or twice on TV. That is not enough games to rate someone! That is like deciding the Dark Knight Rises was rubbish after just 10 minutes and walking out of the cinema.

It is true that Wilf has not been tried at the highest level yet, so it is hard to say how he will do in the Premier League, but his form in the Championship in the last couple of years has been nothing short of mind-blowing. Ok, maybe mind blowing is a bit much, but he has been excellent.

For those still not sure who this kid is, here is a quick run down. Born in the Ivory Coast, moved to England aged four, signed up by Palace’s academy aged 11, made his first-team debut in 2010, has now played over 100 games for the club and made his England senior debut in November.



As a player he is like nothing else we have seen at Selhurst. His main strength is his ability to beat a man one-one-one, or often three-on-one. Put as many defenders as you like in front of him and he will find a way to get past them. He is able to do this thanks to some god-given ability on the ball, I have never seen anyone do the sort of tricks he does, and often at speed. Imagine Cristiano Ronaldo when he was at United, only with better hair.

Wilf’s best position is wide of a front three, he was played in the No.10 role recently for Palace, behind the front man, but struggled in an area of the pitch where space is at a premium. Give him some green grass to run into and he is deadly. He loves taking players on, this is his bread and butter and most weeks he does it with a gleeful smirk across his face.

Yes, this is only the Championship, but he has already come up again Premier League defenders, and each time he has made mincemeat of them. Take Fabio for example. The Manchester United defender, and Wilf’s future team-mate, had to fake an injury just so he could be substituted during the 2011 League Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford after just 35 minutes to avoid 65 more minutes of torment at the hands of Zaha. The Palace man had already bamboozled him numerous times in the opening half an hour. And this is a Brazil international!

Then there was Martin Olsson, the Blackburn and Sweden left-back, who is trying to force a move back to the Premier League this transfer window. Wilf tore him a new one when Rovers came to Selhurst and lost 2-0 in November, including some ridiculous tricks that you only usually see on FIFA13 when you hold down the right trigger and wiggle the analogue stick around.

Now, the stats are not that generous; 15 goals in 123 games is not great for a striker, but then Wilf is not a striker. And four assists this season would suggest he does not get involved that much, but he offers so much more. He unsettles teams, he drags two, sometimes three, defenders out of position, and the likes of Glenn Murray (23 goals) have profited for Palace this season. The aforementioned roasting of Fabio made United so nervous that night it allowed little old Crystal Palace to win at Old Trafford, against a team that including Dimitar Berbatov, Antonia Valencia and Ji-Sung Park.

It is true, though, that consistency is not his strong point. One week he will be Palace’s best player, setting up or scoring a goal and spending 90 minutes putting defenders on their backsides, but the next week he could be anonymous, a frustrated, gangly ball of limbs flailing in all direction while defenders happily nick the ball from him. But that is purely down to experience. The more he grows, and under the right stewardship, is encouraged to use the ball properly, the quicker he will become the finished article.

And all this at the tender age of 20, you would forgive him for being big-headed. In fact, he has been criticised for being arrogant by many in the media, but that could not be further from the truth. I have been lucky enough to interview Wilf a couple of times and he comes across as a very meek, friendly young man. He loves a tweet, oh Lord does he love a tweet, many of them those annoying vague fortune cookie-style quips, but that is just a kid being a kid.

Palace fans wish him all the best, we know he is destined for greater things and, like proud parents, we want to see him be greatest he can be.
Manchester City’s reach.

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