On the day that Sir Alex Ferguson was reported as describing Cristiano Ronaldo as “unbuyable“, the Manchester United manager was also strongly linked with Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha. The 20-year-old could fill a void at Old Trafford that has existed ever since the departure of Ronaldo just over three years ago.
Zaha is an exciting and skillful prospect, with the ability to beat his man for pace and showing the confidence required of flair players at the top level. Ronaldo possessed these attributes in abundance, and like it or not he is the player that Zaha will have to bear comparison to should Ferguson bring him to Old Trafford.
The Ivory Coast-born forward’s stock has risen in recent weeks thanks to his inclusion in the England squad, but he will have been on Ferguson’s radar for some time, especially following a strong performance during Palace’s League Cup victory at Old Trafford almost a year ago. The United manager’s son, Darren, is also reported to have testified to the emerging brilliance of the youngster, after Zaha excelled against his Peterborough side a few weeks ago.
A fee in the region of £10m is believed to be Palace’s selling point, which would represent a similar price to that which Ferguson paid for Ronaldo back in 2003. Gary Neville, writing in the Daily Mail on Sunday, praised the Portuguese as someone who “helped to redefine the game by creating a new breed of flexible forward“. It is in this vein that Zaha has moulded himself, able to operate on either wing or through the middle, a style that would suit him well in Ferguson’s side.
Ronaldo was named the best player in the world during his time at United, and the excitement he generated in the stands has not been fully replaced since he left the club. Perhaps Robin van Persie has come closest to this, whilst the likes of Nani and Ashley Young regularly disappoint, and Antonio Valencia’s effectiveness is of a more pragmatic nature.
There is the space in the United squad therefore for Zaha to come in and fill the void, especially with the departure of Nani appearing more likely thanks to his unresolved contract dispute and poor form (see Daily Mail). The task of filling his compatriot’s sizeable shoes has proven too much for Nani in the eyes of United’s supporters, who generally seem open to him leaving the club if a worthy replacement can be found.
Zaha may well prove to be the man that Ferguson brings in to add some extra verve to his squad, which was severely lacking in Saturday’s defeat at Norwich. With Wayne Rooney absent United seemed bereft of attacking flair, with the wing play of Valencia, Young and Ryan Giggs hugely disappointing. An injection of the speed and willingness to attack defenders that Zaha possesses would have been welcome at Carrow Road.
Should Ferguson move for him, the pressure will be on Zaha to fill the void that Ronaldo left. He appears to have the self-belief and required potential to at least be given the chance.
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