Wilfried Zaha - where did it go wrong?
“He has more natural talent than any footballer I have played with or managed during a lifetime in the game.“
Those were the words of former Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway about Wilfried Zaha just a couple of months ago - a year after the rising star was sold to Manchester United.
But many fans, like Holloway, are confused at how a player with so much potential has fallen off the football radar so dramatically.
As Zaha prepares to face Palace in a crucial Premier League game in Wales tomorrow, we ask our Eagles brain trust on why Wilf has failed to progress since leaving Selhurst Park...
Zaha's magical form for Palace last season earned him an England cap
Tim Ashton, Croydon Guardian sports editor: "Zaha would have gone to Brazil if he stayed at Palace"
"Wilfried Zaha was brought by Ferguson, but arrived under Moyes – therein lies the issue.
"At Selhurst Park he was loved by management and fans alike, but at Old Trafford, he’s a small fish in a big pond who has not been given the chance to impress because Moyes has his own plans that differ to those of his predecessor.
"Zaha’s talent is edgy, seat of your pants excellence and you can only imagine that Moyes wanted stability and continuity in his first season – unfortunately, until his loan move, Zaha disappeared from view as Moyes persisted with this safe option.
"It’s a shame, because if Zaha had stayed at Palace playing the best sides in England, I believe he would be one of the first names on the list for the World Cup."
Graham Moody, former Croydon Guardian Eagles' correspondent: "If Cardiff let him free, he'll be devastating"
"To say Wilf has failed is an exaggeration. Remember, this kid is still only 21 and has played more professional football games than most his age and is still learning.
"I did hope he would light up Cardiff's relegation battle when he went there but he has been hard done by.
"A change of formation has seen the Blues/Reds/Dragons/Bluebirds/whatever they are play without wingers and Wilf has been resigned to the bench.
"But he always comes on and most of the time people say he changes the game. If Cardiff start him and let him free, he'll be devastating for them.
"As for his time at Man Utd, it's harsh to judge him on this season when every single player at the club has failed.
"The whole club has had a bad season and sadly Wilf's early career has been dragged down with that.
"He'll be back though."
Manchester United manager David Moyes sent Zaha out on loan in January
Matt Woosnam, 'Woosie's Words' columnist and online editor of the Five Year Plan fanzine: "David Moyes has questions to answer"
"Ask any manager what is most important for a player’s development and they will all respond with the same answer: playing matches. Training every day to only have a spot on the bench come 3pm on Saturday is not ideal for any player; let alone one of the most talented young players in the country.
"Wilfried Zaha, 21-years-old and rotting in Manchester United’s development squad. Even then, he wasn’t playing regularly, so what has gone wrong for last season’s most coveted talent?
"Upheaval is never easy for any young person, and perhaps Zaha has found it difficult to acclimatise to his new world up in Manchester.
"A place he is unfamiliar with, where there is far more pressure and expectation and no-one to guide him and keep him on the straight and narrow; to show him where his mistakes are; to advise him on how to get his head down and just work hard.
"Zaha lacks a mentor.
"Nonetheless, surely a player with such panache, such natural ability would see that shine through and conquer these issues when given the chance?
"Well that’s exactly the problem; Zaha hasn’t been given the chance to show what he is capable of at Manchester United. A handful of substitute appearances are far from adequate for him to show his talent in matches.
"Why has Zaha gone missing? Realistically the only man who knows the answer to that question is David Moyes; but there are a number of factors which may have resulted in him dropping out of the limelight.
"For me, it always seemed that Wilf just loved to play football, and that is exactly what he has been denied at Manchester United; whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s preference for two wing backs has prevented Zaha from appearing much for Cardiff.
"Let the boy play football and he’ll show you what he can do, otherwise you could always let him return to Palace."
Cardiff manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has opted for wing-backs instead of wingers
Tom Hughes, 'All of the Time' columnist: "Zaha has made things happen at Cardiff when given chance"
"Being a South London boy, born and bred, I think Zaha was always going to have difficulties relocating up north and to a club as big as Manchester United. Yet the best chance he had for success left when Alex Ferguson announced his retirement.
"Suddenly, any plans in place and any promises that were made to ensure he was helped to settle in seemed to be pushed out of the window by David Moyes' turbulent takeover of the side.
"Moyes needed players ready for the first team immediately and with solid top flight experience. While Zaha might have been considered nearly ready by the old regime, Moyes obviously had no desire to spend and time or thought nurturing his obviously abundant talent.
"His loan stint at Cardiff is already being heralded as a failure - and he's only made four starts in all competitions for the Welsh side. However in the two games I've seen Wilf play for the Bluebirds (against Wigan in the FA Cup defeat and against West Brom last week) he's made things happen.
"TV highlights packages have nearly entirely shown him terrorising defenders and putting balls into the box. Indeed, his run and cross led to Cardiff's last grasp 3-3 draw against the Baggies.
"All he's ever needed is patience and support, in the cut-throat environment of Old Trafford under the new boss and at Cardiff on loan and in a relegation scrap, he was never going to get the same backing as from the Selhurst faithful.
"It's a crying shame, because with a bit more game time I'm convinced he'd flourish at either club."
Hero: Zaha scoring against Brighton in last year's Championship playoff semi-final
Andy Bloss, Croydon Guardian reporter and host of the Eagle Eye show on Croydon radio: "Going from Eagles hero to Man Utd zero at Old trafford affected him"
"This is not the first time I have seen a young Palace star leave for pastures new and struggle to break into the first team.
"I remember Wayne Routledge and John Bostock doing exactly the same thing as Zaha when they left Selhurst Park.
"But, and this is a big but, the surprise for me is I think Zaha is better than both of them yet he has failed to make an impact.
"I am guessing it has been difficult for Wilf to settle up in Manchester at a club which is infinitely bigger and the level of expectation is different. Going from hero status at Palace to having to prove yourself at the (soon to be ex) Premier League champions was always going to be a tough ask.
"Hopefully he will get more game time at Cardiff but even then he has been on the bench a number of times. Would I welcome him back here? People say never go back but look at Dougie Freedman as a player. He came back and was amazing for us."
"So Wilf, if we stay up, come back to south London, you know it makes sense."
HAVE YOUR SAY: What next for Wilf? Leave your comments below or tweet us @CroydonGuardian.
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