Wilfried Zaha: Manchester United’s unluckiest player

With the news that Sir Alex Ferguson is retiring at the end of the season, his last signing will never get the chance to play for him.

Following the announcement that Sir Alex Ferguson is retiring as Manchester United manager, countless players past and present praised his influence on their career.

Apart from one that is, who despite being the 71-year-old’s last signing will never have the chance to play for him.

Wilfried Zaha has officially been a United player since January, but by the time he first pulls on the shirt, the manager who signed him will be gone.

Currently on loan at former club Crystal Palace, Zaha is attempting to secure the Eagles’ place in the top flight next season via the play-offs, before he leaves for the champions.

That he never got to play under Ferguson is something his Palace manager Ian Holloway regrets.

I feel sad for Wilf,” he said. “I’m sure he wanted one or two seasons with him.

He goes down as Sir Alex’s last ever signing – it’s not a bad one.”

How good Zaha ultimately proves to be remains to be seen. But David Moyes is inheriting a 20-year-old hailed as one of the best of his generation.

The FA’s director of elite development, Dan Ashworth, identified the winger as one of seven players he called the future of English football.

While many believe he possesses all the attributes to excel at Old Trafford.

But that was under the guidance of Ferguson, who despite the increasing age-gap always inspired respect and effort from his young players.

It was one of his greatest traits: that he could mould innate talent into something more than that. That he could instil a work ethic and a belief into players who at other clubs may have been allowed to coast on what came naturally to them.

That is why Cristiano Ronaldo describes Ferguson as his father figure in football.

When he left United for Real Madrid in 2009, the Portuguese forward was effusive in his praise for the Scot.

Talent isn’t everything,” he said. “You can have it from the cradle to the grave, but it is necessary to learn the trade to be the best.

Ferguson taught me to clean up my faults, to know to give the pass at the last moment, to take the right decision in the area.

I spent six years at United and I owe them everything that I am today.”

Zaha will not be given that opportunity. It will be under Moyes that he works.

But you sense that the younger manager will already be considering ways to coax the best out of an undeniably talented but sometimes erratic young player.

Zaha would have known when he signed for United that he would only be working under Ferguson for the briefest of times. In the end that was no time at all.

But he will hope to emulate some of the best young players to be schooled at Old Trafford; even if he has a different teacher.

Will the loss of Ferguson stifle Zaha's development; or is Moyes the man to turn him into a superstar?

image: © jamesboyes

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