Premier League

Has Wilfried Zaha Outgrown Crystal Palace? Not a Chance

Although it doesn’t seem that long ago, it has been over five years since Manchester United agreed to sign Wilfried Zaha from then-Championship side, Crystal Palace.

Barely out of his teen years, the speedy winger was loaned immediately back to The Eagles. He’d finish his time at Selhurst Park with a bang; guiding his boyhood team to the Premier League promised land. What a way to make your exit.

Zaha’s addition would be the last managerial act from Sir Alex Ferguson. However, the Ivory Coast international would never get to play for the footballing legend. Instead, he’d have to ‘learn’ from David Moyes. During a two-year stay at Old Trafford, the winger would make just four appearances; despite showing glimpses of his immense ability while on both pre-season tours.

1:3 goal ratio

United cut their losses after 24 months, with Zaha heading back home. He made instant impact. In his four full seasons with Palace, he’s increased his goals tally year-on-year. In 2017/18, the #11 finished with nine strikes in 29 top-flight appearances. That’s a pretty impressive record. Any club would take a 1:3 goal ratio from a forward.

It’s not just his ability to stick the ball in the onion bag, though. Zaha’s all-round game is flourishing. In fact, I’d argue that it’s his finishing that often lets him down. The 25-year-old is staggeringly quick, has skills that can leave any defender on the ground wondering what has happened, and over time, the winger has developed a keen eye for a pass; finding other teammates in better positions than yourself is often a rare gift for goal-hungry attackers. That selflessness will certainly serve him well.

That begs the question: has Zaha already outgrown Palace again?

No doubt the vultures will be circling once again. Heck, United themselves need a right-winger, after what happened with Paul Pogba, it’d take a brave man to rule that one out…

Quick, agile, menacing

Zaha epitomises the modern-day right-winger; quick, agile, menacing. He’s also shown an ability to play on the opposite flank or through the middle if possible. That’s a unique skillset; you can see why the so-called ‘top six’ sides are keen. As a squad player, there are certainly worse options out there.

Herein lies the problem. Zaha has already shown that he needs to be playing football week-in-week-out. The wing position is largely known to bring inconsistency at the best of times. At, say, Liverpool, Zaha may find himself on the bench for weeks on end before getting his opportunity. That benefits absolutely nobody.

The decision is solely down to the player. He’ll be far more cautious this time around. Making the same mistake once is acceptable, twice, it’s a cardinal sin; and I doubt Palace would be willing to take him back for a third spell if it all goes pear-shaped again.

Tainting his legacy

Eagles fans worship the ground he walks on. He’s probably the most popular player donning the famous Palace colours at the moment. Why bite the hands that feeds you? I just wouldn’t understand the risk in tainting his legacy at this point in time. He has to be smart when it comes to decision-making. Hopefully, his agent is whispering positive things in his ear rather than chasing the money.

If he is desperate to move, I’d sincerely urge him to use another club as a stepping stone. Progressing slowly up the ladder rather than rushing all the way to the summit seems to be in his best interests. Perhaps to move to an Everton or a West Ham United would be a good idea? Both would be a step in the right direction as his career continues to move forward. At 25, he’s still young enough to head to Goodison Park or the London Stadium for a few years, and then get his big-money, top-six move while approaching his peak years.

For now, he should return the faith and loyalty shown in him by Roy Hodgson. The 70-year-old manager has Zaha playing the best football in his career. Why not continue to learn and grow from the former England boss for another twelve months? Then re-assess the situation next summer. It’s vital that he gets another season of regular football under his belt, because the last thing he wants is to move to another Premier League big-boy and begin to rot on the substitutes bench once again…

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