A Crystal Palace Fan Gives Manchester United Fans The Lowdown On Wilfried Zaha...
Apart from voluntarily wading in to the hot molten gloop of a crestfallen Crystal Palace (which had freshly imploded amidst financial turmoil, been deducted 10 points and deserted by their manager Neil Warnock) and heroically rescuing the Eagles from near-certain relegation and dead-dertain liquidation, what did Paul Hart ever do for us?
The journeyman manager who stepped into the firing line to take on his third managerial appointment of that 2009-2010 season somehow pulled off a Great Escape of biblical proportions that year. But that wasn't all he did for us. In amongst the pressure-cooker framework of a mucky relegation scrap he hatched a boxfresh 17 year old from the academy named Wilfried Zaha, and gave him his debut.
As the club has since persevered through yet more stormy waters to now-relative stability, Zaha, like several young players who've had to grow up quickly at the Palace, was swept along for the ride. Unlike most of them though, he's become a household name throughout the country. Sure, a mesmerising, fearless performance at Old Trafford in Palace's giant-killing of Manchester United last season was a turning point as media interest escalated and Premier league scouts got wind of his ability.
But outside the Premier League bubble, the Selhurst Park faithful and rival Championship club supporters have been witnessing Zaha's eye-catching emergence long before Fabio De Silva was tied up in knots that night, subbed in the first half and then was seen to suddenly limp off, pretending to be injured in an attempt to shield his embarrassment at not being able to handle the rookie winger in front of the Sky cameras.
Inevitable half-baked analysis across the media spectrum followed, ranging from 'rough diamond' to 'raw talent', with not much imagination in between. As a Palace season-ticket holder who regularly delights in the surrounding audible rhapsody of plastic seats flicking up in sequential unison, like a reverse domino effect every time the ball is fed into his path, let me tell you about Wilfried Zaha.
From my seat, the angle which I see Wilf attacking full-backs from is like watching a kid taunt a naive kitten with a spare shoelace soaked in catnip. What we're dealing with here is a rare, zestful English player with great Ronaldo-esque flair and technique and all the elastic bombast of Faustino Asprilla. Let's get one thing straight, he's far from the finished article, he is still only 19 and has 8 sugars in his tea. But the mazy diagonal runs which see him take on and beat more players than we've ever seen anyone do before in our side can only yield unswerving excitement amongst all those assembled. There used to be a time when if someone stood up in front of us, we didn't want them to sit down, such was the awful football on display. Now here we are observing a special prospect develop before our very eyes on a week-to-week basis. He's even got the fans singing 'He's just too good for you' every time our weaving whippet humiliates the opposition or gets hacked in the process, now an established chant in the Holmesdale Road stand repertoire.
It's not evident from his wiry frame, but our sinewy number 16 is strong in possession, is equally at home in switching his attacking prowess from wing to wing, can find an extra yard of space at light-speed and as well as walk his way into the opposing box, can whip in an early dangerous cross so as not to be too obvious in his approach play. His off the field attitude seems to be in check too, with not a bad word to be said about him. Our defensive midfielder David Wright has likened Zaha's style to playing 'street football' on the professional stage, which isn't too far off the mark, but there in lie the frustrations that come with a zippy teenager and a licence to roam.
Wilfried Zaha had more assists than any other Palace player last season, however, with more awareness, attention to detail and a heightened sense of urgency in his final ball, his tally could be twice what it is already. Nathan Dyer's recent example of a right-winger who chips in with his fair share of end product is a good example for Wilf to follow. Like Sean Scannell, Zaha has the capacity to be direct and efficient going forward, the niggling feeling on the terraces though is we see him stop and think too often with his head down instead of taking advantage of the space ahead of him and the space he's created for his on-rushing team mates, but these are surely developments in his game which will come with age and minutes on the pitch.
And minutes on the pitch is what he'll get if he stays with us. Such is the perception that Palace are a selling club and will jump at the first silly money offer for his services that his recently signed 5 year contract extension has not been taken into consideration in media reports, which suggest his imminent departure to one of the Premier League big boys for £10million. Yet under Palace's new owners, there's a new mood developing. Sustainability is the new ethos as Palace focus on a grow-your-own methodology, complimented with Dougie Freedman spending less on risky panic buys and making full use of the loan market in a bid to adopt a 'try before you buy' policy.
While expecting Zaha to fulfill his 5 year contract is unrealistic, here's one Eagle whose commitment to the cause will scare off the circling vultures for now at least. So far Zaha, so good.