They call it the richest game in football, the last step on the ladder to the Holy Grail, the one you complete feeling either heartbreak or elation. Some matches are just matches. Others change everything.
Tomorrow’s Championship play-off final between Crystal Palace and Watford will make heroes of 11 men and blubbering wrecks of 11 others, and as they spend today considering what is yet to come, most of the headlines concern one man.
Having scored the goals that sent Palace to the final, Wilfried Zaha will be hoping to sign off with at least one more. He will then pull off the Eagles’ shirt for the final time, before swapping it for the red of Manchester United.
As Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signing, Zaha has already made a bit of history. But he will be hoping to make plenty more, starting tomorrow.
The 20-year-old has long been touted as the next big thing. A parting gift to the club that gave him his chance could see his current side and his future one facing each other next season. And you sense nothing would make Zaha happier.
Speaking to the Evening Standard, Palace manager Ian Holloway said, “We feel like we are losing a family member.”
But that farewell is for another day. Tomorrow his mind will be solely on helping the Eagles reach the top flight; because while Zaha will arrive there regardless of tomorrow’s result, his teammates’ places are not yet guaranteed.
Play-off finals are notoriously hard to call. So I won’t.
But Manchester United fans will be watching to see exactly who and what they signed back in January. Be that an immediate solution or a long-term project.
With United’s current wingers having suffered such a poor season, and with incoming manager David Moyes relying heavily on width during his time at Everton, Zaha could walk straight from one starting 11 to another.
He will know that, as he passes today desperate for tomorrow.
He will also know that it won’t just be Palace and Watford fans watching his performance. It will be the fans of one of the biggest clubs in the world.
It will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure.
Can Zaha make the difference again tomorrow? And will he be an instant success at Old Trafford?
image: © jamesboyes