Will United winger Zaha be one of the stars of the new Premier League?

Wilfried Zaha

Van Persie, Suarez, Hazard, Aguero, Bale… England is littered with top football talent, but will Zaha join that company as early as this season?

Manchester United's pre-season may have gotten off to a stuttering start due to a 1-0 reverse to a Thai All-Star XI and a 2-3 loss to Yokohama F.Marinos, but Premier League new boy Wilfried Zaha spared David Moyes suffering further blushes earlier today, Friday, by securing a late 2-2 equaliser against Cerezo Osaka.

Considering the acclaim the 20-year-old attracted whilst at Crystal Palace, it begs the question whether the Abidjan-born England international can not only replicate that form in England's top division but become a star in his own right much like United team-mates Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand. 

Despite featuring just once in a Red Devils shirt (in Bangkok), Zaha was greeted by a hoard of enthusiastic Australian fans eager to procure signatures for their photographs of the youngster's sole senior level appearance, or of their United memorabilia.

His reputation preceded him on the other side of the planet.


Out of all the clubs in England, two of the best places a young player can continue his footballing education are either at United's Carrington training ground or Arsenal's Hertfordshire hideaway. Zaha was hunted by both clubs. He chose the country's modern powerhouse and has enough talent that he could replace the inconsistent form of positional rivals Nani, Antonio Valencia or Ashley Young.

Palace have a history of nurturing teenage prodigies having aided the early development of Wayne Routledge, Ben Watson and Victor Moses, who is now continuing to flourish at Chelsea.

Zaha has a playground enthusiasm for taking on - and beating - an opponent with a darting dribble but, at Palace, was groomed with the positional and spatial awareness required so that those runs do not end up in cul de sacs.

One of his mentor's at Selhurst Park, the ever-quotable Ian Holloway, even spoke to TalkSport at the end of last season over how Zaha can already vie for a first-team role at Old Trafford: 'I think the boy is so exciting he’s going to have a chance at Man United's first team and I genuinely mean that.'

In the same month, Three Lions don Roy Hodgson even commented to The FA how Zaha is 'on the threshold of something big' and seemed adamant that he will be granted an immediate chance to prove his worth in Premier League competition: 'He will be given the opportunity.'

Zaha's Palace form was so strong that it was evident he was a number of levels above Championship quality. While England's second tier may be more rugged, the top rung of this country's football has far more pace - something Zaha may have to adjust to. 

However, he has already impressed not just his squad-mates, but a fellow winger in Young, who marvelled at the player's natural ability. He told the club's official website: 'It's always good for the club having additions like Wilf - he's been fantastic. We wouldn't have signed him if he wasn't going to have a great future.'

Not short of self-confidence, Zaha - who practiced perfecting Ronaldinho's silky skills with a tennis ball when he was a pre-teen - has, in the past, intimated that only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo surpass him for talent. That assurance in himself may prove handy when he is to change next to Premier League's ageless wonder Ryan Giggs in the United dressing-rooms. 

With his crowd-pleasing style, determination to take it to the top and the platform he has been granted to do so with, it may not be a question of if Zaha makes as big an impact as players like Liverpool's Luis Suarez, Chelsea's Eden Hazard, Manchester City's Sergio Aguero and Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale, but when.

image: © jamesboyes

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