Is Zaha’s Manchester United career already over?

Is it possible that Wilfried Zaha’s Manchester United career is as good as over before it ever really got started?

Thus far he has only played an hour of the Community Shield in August, 77 minutes of the 4-0 Carling Cup hammering of Norwich in October, emerging from the bench late on against Newcastle and Aston Villa. This would not have been what he was expecting when he signed for the club last January and his prospects are unlikely to improve any time soon.

During the current campaign, all of United’s wingers have featured significantly more than Zaha. Antonio Valencia leads the way with 22 starts and six substitute appearances, while Ashley Young has made eight starts and emerged from the bench a further nine times. Nani has started seven games and appeared on three occasions as a substitute, as teenager Adnan Januzaj has 12 starts and nine substitute appearances. During this time, both Nani and Januzaj have also both been rewarded with new long-term deals, as their contracts entered their final 12 months.

United currently occupy seventh position in the table, already 11 points off the top, unchartered territory at this stage of the season for the reigning champions. It is also accepted that David Moyes has inherited a relatively sub-standard collective, with the midfield identified as their primary weakness. In short, the competition for Zaha is not exactly steep, if he can’t get in the side now, what chance does he have in the future when the manager reinforces the squad?

The United faithful have long since lost patience with Nani and he was booed off during the recent home game against Stoke. Young shone for Watford and Aston Villa, but has found playing at the very highest level, for United and internationally, a bridge too far. Valencia reverted to his old squad number after an underwhelming season in the prestigious No. 7 shirt in an attempt to get performances back on track. Januzaj has been one of the few successes and the 18-year-old has quickly become a key figure for Moyes. Despite his lack of experience compared to Zaha, it is the £15m signing from Crystal Palace who is instead being used sparingly and introduced to the Premier League gradually.

David Moyes

Moyes has been almost apologetic when clarifying the Zaha situation in public, explaining that his lack of playing time is due to stiff competition, rather than a lack of ability or poor performances. “I told him we would try to get him minutes but in the wide areas we have Nani, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Adnan Januzaj and even Shinji Kagawa,” Moyes revealed. “We are as strong there as anywhere. It’s not that Wilf has done anything wrong; it’s just that we have big competition. He is very much in my plans and in my thoughts all the time. We don’t want to put him in too quickly.”

He has also hinted that Zaha will have to reach and maintain the high standard expected in training on a regular basis before he can cement a place in the side. “It is important Wilf gets to see the level of the training here, the level of the players and the quality they have got. He is getting better which we are pleased about.”

When Sir Alex Ferguson signed Zaha and loaned him back to Crystal Palace, it appeared to be a sensible decision and he proved to be instrumental in the Eagles’ promotion via the play-offs. But in retrospect, a few months under Ferguson might have been more beneficial in the long term, acclimatising to his surroundings, even if he didn’t play many games. He has instead turned up as an expensive acquisition that the new manager does not appear to rate or require.

There is believed to be a considerable queue of clubs keen to take Zaha on loan this month and therefore his immediate career appears to be based elsewhere. Should he move and impress, he has a reasonable chance of making Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad, as quality wingers are in short supply and his versatility would be an added bonus. But what is clear is that he is on the periphery at Manchester United and will need to make the most of any opportunities afforded him. The odds look stacked against him if he is to salvage his United career, before it ever really got going.

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