Manchester United Transfers: How Would Wilfried Zaha Fit into the Starting XI?

Max TowleAnalyst IJanuary 22, 2013

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15:  Wilfred Zaha of Crystal Palace in action during the FA Cup with Budweiser Third Round replay match between Stoke City and Crystal Palace at Britannia Stadium on January 15, 2013 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

At first, the tabloid stories linking Manchester United with Crystal Palace wonderkid Wilfried Zaha were difficult to believe.

A little over a week ago Sir Alex Ferguson claimed that there was "nothing to report" in regards to the club's winter transfer market dealings (via Yahoo).

Many, myself included, had pinpointed the side's need for an enforcer in midfield as the most pressing concern, but apparently this is not considered so.

With Silly Season in full swing, the rumours linking Zaha with United have quickly developed into genuine gold dust, with Chief Executive David Gill feeling it necessary to admit an interest in the youngster in an interview with Sky Sports (h/t

"He's one of the players we're looking at. That's all I'd say at the moment,” Gill said. "But even if we did do something with Wilfried Zaha, that would be for the summer. He's one of the players we're looking at and we'll see what happens. There's a long way to go."

One of Britain's more reliable newspapers, The Guardian, revealed yesterday that "Sir Alex Ferguson is confident of signing Wilfried Zaha for £12m from Crystal Palace by the end of the week, with the aim of loaning the winger back to the Championship club for the remainder of the season."

With the squad travelling to Qatar for a midseason respite from the rigours of the season, the Scotsman remained behind, quite possibly with the aim of concluding a deal for Zaha.

The Guardian claims that Arsenal are the Red Devils biggest rivals for the 20-year-old's signature—good reason for a transfer to be concluded as quickly as possible.

Admittedly, Zaha would be a prospect for the future, rather than being expected to make an immediate impact similar to summer signing Robin van Persie.

However, it would be worth assessing exactly where (and for whom) he would lineup in the Manchester United first team.

Recognised primarily as a winger for Palace, the Ivory Coast-born, England international has also been known to lead his side's attack in a more central position.

But the nature of the Premier League would most likely prevent Zaha from operating as a striker for the Red Devils; at least initially.

He doesn't yet possess the aerial ability nor the positional savvy to do the job.

He may, like one Cristiano Ronaldo, eventually develop into a centre forward. In his first season, though, this would be incredibly unlikely.

Zaha has been effective as a second forward for Palace, but with Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa to fill that role, this scenario would be unlikely if he were to join.

Though the 20-year-old has scored a decent 14 goals in the last season-and-a-half for his current team, Britain's top flight would be a completely different prospect.

Despite the comparison being rather dangerous, there are similarities in his playing style with that of a young Ronaldo in his early days at Old Trafford.

He relies on a sharp, initial burst of acceleration to beat his marker, coupled with a pair of gangly, flailing legs that seem capable of anything once they get a trembling defender in their crosshairs.

With a full bag of tricks in his arsenal, Zaha rarely seems afraid to take on his man with the ball at his feet, even if he isn't always successful doing so.

Palace have deployed him on the left flank most often, giving the whiz kid the option of cutting inside onto his right foot and unleashing a shot at goal.

With three right-footed wingers (Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ashley Young) currently on the books at United, and the well-aged Ryan Giggs being the only lefty, Zaha would be a welcome addition in this respect, even if he too is right-footed.

If, unlike Valencia has been able to, he could become as comfortable on his left foot as he is on his right, his worth to the Red Devils would immediately skyrocket.

Even Nani, as good as he can be on his day, is yet to iron out the inconsistencies that have prevented him from becoming a truly world-class player. Zaha is obviously not the finished product, but has that same potential.

In terms of formation, Sir Alex Ferguson seems to have settled on the now standard 4-2-3-1 as his system of choice.

A team with two natural wingers may be capable of winning the Premier League title over the course of a 38-game term, but Fergie realises the importance of the more versatile attacking midfielders in European competition—a key line of thinking behind his dogged pursuit of Lucas Moura in the summer.

Should he join, Zaha would not be expected to instantly become a regular starter in his first season in Manchester, at least not right away. There is a great deal more patience for young talents at Old Trafford than there is at other top clubs.

It appears the club sees enough potential in him to warrant a £12 million move in its determination to build a squad of players good enough to confidently hand over to Sir Alex's eventual successor.

If Wilfried Zaha could achieve half of what CR7 did at United, whether on the left wing or otherwise, it would not be money wasted.

What do you make of Zaha? Should United pull the trigger on a £12 million transfer?


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