Zaha's Man Utd Move Heralds A New Era For Championship Clubs

Why Wilfried Zaha's transfer to Manchester United is a great deal for all concerned – and English football at large...
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Why Wilfried Zaha's transfer to Manchester United is a great deal for all concerned – and English football at large...

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Zaha's Man Utd Move Heralds A New Era For Championship Clubs

From the bald to the freshly hatched, Eagles of all shapes and sizes mourned the metaphorical departure yesterday of their latest bright young hope. Without exception, Wilfried Zaha had captured the hearts and minds of Selhurst Park and transformed the whinging hordes in to excitable fanboys once again. But most miraculous of all, Wilfried Zaha was sold to Manchester United, but is not yet history in SE25.

Alongside Ian Holloway, the Crystal Palace board (CPFC 2010) had maintained a bullish stance. They had held out admirably in the summer transfer window and remained defiant in this one, whilst sensibly refraining from absolutism. As the media clamoured to label our number 16 as unplayable by the opposition, we as Palace fans almost convinced ourselves that Zaha was unsaleable too.

Reality has now dawned though and acceptance is surprisingly widespread across the social media spectrum. We realise that despite being under no pressure to sell, our club held all the cards and had decided to play them. With Zaha on the fringes of the full England squad and Manchester United chomping at the bit, there was also a sense that if we loved him that much, we had to set him free. For once, however, completely on our own terms.

Usual practice dictates that no soon as Palace develop a golden boy to call their own, a transfer window fire sale, administration mugging or an expiring contract conspires to rob us of our booty. Yet for the first time in a generation the big boys came sniffing, we weren't desperate for a cash injection and still ended up making a deal, and an intriguing one at that.

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Enough has been written already about Zaha's playing potential and his imminent Ronaldo-esque learning curve, but what has not been covered sufficiently is how the shape of this deal has never been seen before.

On Thursday, Palace had Zaha. Today, we have £10million, 5m of add-ons, a 15% sell on clause and Zaha. Championship Palace, a famed 'yo-yo' side, relative minnows and quasi-proud of its status as a selling or feeder club, dictating terms to the biggest club in the land? How did this happen and what does it say about the structure of English football, a new self-preservation order from the bottom up and our stars of tomorrow?

Palace's negotiations can herald a new era for Championship to Premiership transfers

The sale and loan back manoeuvre is not a new concept and it's not new to United, having previously allowed Chris Smalling to stay with Premier League Fulham once on their books. This situation gave the Football League something to think about though with rumours that established codes were being broken, and ultimately held the whole transaction in limbo this week. How could Palace so adamantly insist that this was a deal breaker despite the sizeable £10m fee to reinvest in the team? The new board have a reputation for keeping their word and had promised one thing, that Zaha would be with us for the rest of the season. But despite the fact there was no financial pressure to sell, how did this become so readily accepted by United? Three further reasons come to mind:

• Zaha had signed a 5.5 year contract providing leverage for Palace's negotiating position.

• Palace are in a promising league position and could convincingly claim they needed Zaha to aid in the final push.

• Zaha, in his own words and to his credit, actively wants to stay and help his hometown club over the finish line.

It's clear that for 'lesser' clubs like Palace, playing to these strengths, timings and circumstances can establish a renewed balance to transfer dealings in an age where young players can be too readily picked off.

Ferguson doesn't 'do' the January transfer window

All credit to Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, they've listened, evaluated Palace's argument and made allowances. But it's also well known that Fergie doesn't 'do' January, indeed that's why he should be in Dubai for warm weather training with the rest of his squad this week. Instead he stayed behind to tie up the Zaha signing to avoid a closed season bunfight. And he conceded that the player could be loaned back because essentially, he wouldn't play him yet. Throwing him in at the business end of the season was unlikely for Sir Alex and Zaha is also FA Cup-tied.

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Zaha is a shining role model of a professional footballer

Immersed in a speculation bubble for months, Wilfried Zaha has behaved impeccably with not a hint of rebellion, a transfer request or a 'Come and Get Me' plea. He's coped amazingly well, kept his head down and suffered a temporary dip in form only because of the attention England brought to his game and in response, the set-up of Championship opposition to nullify him. Judas-like vitriol is usually reserved for players instead of managers but not in Palace's recent history.

Zaha's exit is more forgivable compared to Dougie Freedman's hasty exit  because he's staying on loan to help finish the job and he patiently held out for an opportunity like Man Utd, not jumping at first opportunity to whoever came along. It was also clearly the club's decision to make the move with this one. Zaha will leave with his dignity intact and the best wishes of the Palace faithful.

It's the future of football

It's a breath of fresh air to finally witness business acumen presenting itself at Selhurst Park. Simon Jordan's recent tell-all book read like a sitcom at times, so it's a relief to see a transfer fee for a Palace youngster resemble recent prices settled for Southampton's academy products.

It's possible the size of Zaha's deal will inspire Football League clubs to re-examine their player development and output, for this really is proof of the future of sustainable football and the England national team.

As well as Zaha, Palace can now boast Wayne Routledge, Ben Watson, Nathaniel Clyne and Victor Moses in their academy alumni now propping up the contingent of English players holding first team berths in today’s Premiership sides. Make no mistake, that means one quarter of Premier league teams harbour a Crystal Palace academy success story within their first team ranks. Remember Jonny Williams’ name: he's surely next off the conveyor belt.

Ferguson will make Wilfried Zaha a star and no doubt Palace fans will fervently follow his Old Trafford career with a proud smile. Meanwhile it'd be a nice touch if some of the legions of Southern Red's come and catch a glimpse of their future winger and make up the numbers at Selhurst Park for the rest of this season.

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