Manchester United confirmed on Friday the signing of Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace, a player that epitomises Sir Alex Ferguson’s modern day philosophy.
The United manager has a deep-rooted faith in wide players, which can be seen from his first Premier League-winning side that boasted Andrei Kanchelskis and Ryan Giggs. This ideal has continued throughout the Scot’s reign, with the treble team of 1999 proving devastating from the flanks in the shape of Giggs and David Beckham.
Perhaps Ferguson’s own philosophy is born from United’s rich history books, and the talent that preceded his reign. Joe Spence shone at Old Trafford before the Second World War, and has the most number of appearances for United as a winger aside from the evergreen Ryan Giggs. Johnny Berry was a diminutive trickster that excelled against the odds by virtue of his talent, playing 276 games for United before injuries sustained in the Munich disaster ended his career. Then of course there is George Best.
Today’s squad is given its width by Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ashely Young. The trio ought to be forming a formidable proposition and providing service to United’s deadliest strikeforce since Cristiano Ronaldo left, but they have all struggled for form and fitness throughout the season. Perhaps this is why Ferguson has pounced for Zaha, who impressed when Palace knocked United out of the Carling Cup just over a year ago.
Zaha is a young, exciting prospect, already recognised at international level but with plenty left to learn, and at 20 years of age is on his way to the perfect place to develop. He is quick and strong, and seems comfortable operating on either flank, which is the modern adaptation of Ferguson’s ideal. In 2008 on the way to European success the manager was able to deploy a fluid attack that usually consisted of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez in tandem with the irrepressible Ronaldo.
Currently Valencia restricts this sort of fluidity being so right-footed, but this was not considered an issue when the Ecuadorian was firing on all cylinders. When he joins at the end of the current campaign, Zaha will provide the fluidity that has been lacking of late, and will look to replicate the impact that Ronaldo had on influencing Ferguson’s modern philosophy. He craves fleet footed players with pace and guile, able to interchange positions freely and hurt the opposition both through sustained possession and on the counter.
Against Spurs last weekend the current demise of United’s threat out wide was laid bare, as Valencia was benched once again and the manager went with an expectedly narrow setup. This was always going to be difficult in the face of the home side’s own strength on the wings in Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, and proved to be the case as the Reds managed only two shots on target. Through a lack of outlets on the flanks the visitors struggled to not only to create chances but also to relieve pressure.
It will be interesting to see if Ferguson retains the services of all his current wingers once Zaha arrives, particularly as Nani’s contract situation remains unresolved. What is certain is that Zaha possesses all the attributes to fulfill his new manager’s modern take on a long-standing philosophy of strength from the wings.
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