Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signing as Manchester United manager came in January 2013 in the form of Wilfried Zaha who joined the English Champions for a fee reported to be around £15million, however Zaha was immediately loaned back to his previous club Crystal Palace in order for him to contribute to their promotion charge and never played under Ferguson.
Zaha, following the retirement of the long serving Manchester United manager, has joined up with David Moyes’ first team on the pre-season tour to Asia and Australia and has made quite the impact in his first outings in the red of Manchester United. Zaha has shown himself to be comfortable when in possession of the ball as well as illustrating a desire to take defenders on once in a position to do so and it is this old fashioned wingplay which has really endeared him to the majority of Manchester United supporters even at this early stage in his Old Trafford career.
Manchester United’s 2012-2013 campaign whilst very successful with the Premier League crown being taken back from fierce rivals Manchester City, also served as a reminder of certain weaknesses within the United squad with the main being in the middle of midfield and the secondary being in the wide areas. Since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2009 Manchester United it could be said have lacked a genuine out and out exciting wide midfielder, Ashley Young and Nani are very similar players in the sense the prefer to cut back inside and look for either the shot or a clever reverse pass to a player in the penalty area rather than beating a defender and Antonio Valencia the other Manchester United winger has struggled to regain the confidence of taking a man on since his horror injury suffered against Rangers in the Champions League in 2010.
The main problem with the three wingers United had in their squad last season was the apparent lack of consistency within all their respective seasons, Ashley Young dipped in and out of form with his best performance of the season coming in December in the 3-2 win at Eastlands following a frustrating run of fruitless performances, Nani struggled with injuries for a lot of the campaign but again found his consistency hampered by having to keep swapping between a position on the left wing and a position on the right wing with his best performance of the season arguably coming in the second leg of the European Cup tie against Real Madrid before his rather unfortunate dismissal courtesy of Cuneyt Cakir. Finally Antonio Valencia frustrated a significant number of supporters last season with his newfound tendency to make an initial run down the line and then cut back on himself and pass the ball back to Rafael at right back rather than take on a defender with it appearing to be a longstanding fear of making let’s say risky forward runs following his aforementioned injury.
Zaha is a completely different entity to the trio of Young, Nani and Valencia, he is quick and relies on this pace heavily in order to burst past defenders and get into a crossing position and like a certain former Manchester United number seven, Zaha could eventually end up using this pace to reinvent himself as a centre forward. Zaha is also a box of tricks with the former Palace man having stepovers and the rest all in his arsenal and these skills have all been on show during the pre-season tour where Zaha has given defences a really tough time.
As well as all his obvious on the pitch talents, Zaha also seems like a genuine, down to earth young footballer, gone is the self assured persona of a year ago which led to comments suggesting only Ronaldo and Messi were better than him, this has been replaced by a quiet, unassuming individual who seems genuinely in awe of just where he is now playing football, there seems a real determination to work hard and make his transfer to Manchester United work which has been made clear in Zaha’s sharp insistences that he didn’t want to be loaned out yet again. With this hardworking attitude in tow as well as his talents as a footballer then in my opinion the sky really is the limit for Wilfried Zaha.
He, unlike so many young promising footballers before him, has moved to the right football club at the right time. Manchester United has always given youth a chance with every Matchday squad featuring at least one home-grown player for the last seventy five years. Zaha will get his chance to develop at a club who pride themselves on developing young talents be it from the club’s own academy or other English clubs. Secondly Zaha is joining Manchester United at a time where they are at their weakest in terms of depth and quality in the wide areas for a number of years, the cornerstone of Manchester United’s initial attacking football under Sir Alex Ferguson was the 4-4-2 with two blisteringly quick wingers on either side, from Andrei Kanchelskis to Lee Sharpe to Ryan Giggs right through to Cristiano Ronaldo, every great Manchester United side under Sir Alex Ferguson has featured wingers of a high quality and Wilfried Zaha could be the next to join that illustrious list.
It is very foolish to directly compare Zaha to players from Manchester United’s past, in particular Cristiano Ronaldo, at this stage however it has to be said that the playing style of Zaha in his early tour matches with Manchester United is very reminiscent of an eighteen year old Cristiano Ronaldo making his United bow against Bolton Wanderers way back in 2003. Zaha’s first thought as soon as he receives the ball is ‘How can I get past this first defender?’ and then the second defender and possibly a third which ultimately gets him into a position where he can either put a dangerous cross into the box or even take a shot on himself. Ronaldo in that 2003 performance against Bolton was the same with the Portuguese teenager giving Bolton right back Nicky Hunt problems for the whole of his thirty minute cameo with quick feet, stepovers and blistering outright pace.
With Ashley Young still making a tentative comeback for fitness ahead of the new season and with Antonio Valencia expected to return to Ecuador for the funeral of International teammate and personal friend Christian Benitez, it could be the case that David Moyes will give Wilfried Zaha a first competitive start in this season’s Community Shield against Wigan which would provide Zaha a significant platform upon which to make an impact against a shaky Wigan defence which would in turn give him the edge of a starting place when it comes to the Premier League curtain raiser against Swansea the following weekend.
Manchester United and in particular David Moyes have recognized Zaha’s talent very early on and have already moved to ensure Zaha develops in the best possible environment at the Old Trafford club. Ryan Giggs, a man with a wealth of experience at the top level from his teenage years has been entrusted with the task of guiding Wilfried Zaha through his early period with the English Champions. The former Wales international according to reports has been positioned next to Zaha in the Manchester United dressing room and under Giggs’ new role as a part time first team coach it is expected Giggs will give Zaha particular close guidance with Zaha’s playing style now very similar to that of Giggs when he broke into the United first team as a spritely teenager back in 1991. Giggs will also be able to offer Zaha advice on how to deal with the pressures that come with being a Manchester United footballer away from the pitch and in my mind there is no better candidate to tutor Zaha than Ryan Giggs simply due to the fact Giggs has been where Zaha finds himself currently and knows how to progress and deal with the pressures of professional football at the top leve.
Zaha undoubtedly will be given game time this year and depending on his early performances he could find himself to be a key member of David Moyes’ squad much earlier than most expected. Whilst it is still early in his career, the signs all point to success for Zaha with his new hardworking attitude being exactly what is required from a young player at Manchester United as well as his footballing qualities being clear for all to see and Sir Alex Ferguson who saw Zaha’s talent and made it a significantly important objective to secure the signature of the former Palace winger before Arsenal could get the player could well prove to be one of the Scot’s greatest ever acts with Zaha having all the attributes in place to become a mainstay in a successful Manchester United side for years to come.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4