How will Zaha handle the pressure at Manchester United?

Zaha Palace New2

Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signing after his 26-year reign at Old Trafford Wilfried Zaha is expected to kick-start his Manchester United career next season.

The 20-year-old England youngster was one of the standout performers in the Championship last term with Crystal Palace where he remained on loan after officially signing for United in January.

Born in Ivory Coast, the forward-slash-winger joined the Eagles’ youth academy as a 13-year-old, making his first team debut in 2010 at the age of 17.

Under Ian Holloway’s mentorship last term, he emerged as one of the most coveted youngsters in the country and made his senior debut for England as an 83rd minute substitute in a friendly against Sweden in November.

Zaha became Ferguson’s last signing, agreeing a five-and-a-half-year contract with the eventual Premier League champions who paid £15 million to Crystal Palace for undoubtedly their best player.

The Eagles and their boss Holloway gained promotion to the English top tier and have resigned themselves to the likelihood Zaha will not be loaned back to them next term. He will make his debut for United in their first season under the leadership of David Moyes.

Holloway has insisted Zaha is ready for the Premier League, as has the former England U21 boss Stuart Pearce who worked with him in the national team setup but it remains to be seen how and when he’ll adapt to the step up and react to the pressure of playing for the biggest club in the world.

I’m reminded of other Championship stars who failed to make the grade in the Premier League as well as the youngsters who have come up and succeeded admirably.

Robert Snodgrass who signed from Leeds United to Norwich City last summer made an impressive impact with the Canaries last term, scoring 6 goals and making 8 assists from midfield (predominantly the right wing) in the Premier League.

However, some readers may remember his former teammate Jermaine Beckford who was a 30-plus goals per season striker for Leeds in the Championship a few years ago but upon moving to Everton from Leicester City as one of the most highly-rated youngsters in the Championship back in 2010 failed to impress at the top level, scoring just 8 goals in two seasons at Goodison Park.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain arrived from Southampton at Arsenal in 2011 as 17-year-old who has impressed immensely in his first season at St Mary’s, scoring 10 goals from midfield and making 9 assists for the Saints. He moved to the Emirates for the same price (accounting for add-ons) as Zaha and whilst he certainly looked sharp in his first season, he has failed to replicate the same form yet for the Gunners.

Despite some decent displays in the Premier League and for England at international level, the now 19-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain has scored just 3 Premier League goals in two seasons.

Manchester United’s own Phil Jones, however, is one of the finest examples of how to go about settling at a big top-tier club – Jones signed from Blackburn Rovers in 2011 for £16.5 million and, after something of an adjustment period in his first season, the defender has emerged as one of United’s most reliable and quality performers last term.

If I had to hazard a guess, I would expect Zaha to take well to life in Manchester and will adjust well eventually to the Premier League’s intensity if he’s managed cautiously and with care by David Moyes.

Ferguson had an impeccable record of developing young players and getting the best out them at United and it remains to be seen if Moyes can do the same. I think when it comes to cases such as Beckford’s, it’s about quality.

Put simply, Beckford wasn’t good enough and that was exposed during his time as Everton with Moyes but, equally Snodgrass has made the step up reasonably well Norwich and Jones should be a reminder of the level of commitment and determination it will take Zaha to realize his full potential as a future world-class star of Manchester United.

images: © James Boyes, © Tom Brogan

Register for MANCHESTER UNITED team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch