Zaha – is the best yet to come from the Eagles trickster?
As Wilfried Zaha celebrates the 10th anniversary of his Crystal Palace debut, we ask whether the enigmatic forward's career will ever take off.
Zaha was handed his bow by the Eagles on March 27, 2010, in inauspicious circumstances, coming on for the final 10 minutes of a 2-1 loss to Cardiff City in the Championship.
Few had heard of the 17-year-old at the time but he wouldn’t need long to make his impact at Selhurst Park before announcing himself on a national stage in November 2011.
Zaha tormented Manchester United’s defence on an infamous night at Old Trafford as they eliminated Sir Alex Ferguson’s side from the League Cup at the quarter-final stage.
The Red Devils kept a close eye on the Ivorian from there on in and eventually made their move in the 2013 January transfer window, snapping him up for just under £11million in what looked like a major coup.
Having been loaned back to Palace for the rest of the season after agreeing to join United, and helping them achieve promotion to the Premier League, hopes were certainly high at Old Trafford that he could become a superstar.
However, adjusting to life at a massive club and settling in a new city proved difficult.
He was loaned out to Cardiff in January 2014 but again struggled to settle and it was no surprise when he returned to south London the following summer. And there he has stayed, helping establish Palace in the Premier League, having previously been a yo-yo side.
Without Zaha, the Eagles might not still be a top-flight club and he has certainly earned his status as a firm fans’ favourite.
However, with Palace often battling just to keep their heads above water, it is perhaps surprising no one has plucked Zaha from Selhurst Park given he’s a proven Premier League talent.
Since re-joining Palace, Zaha has scored 35 goals and achieved 38 assists. However, his contribution to Palace is best registered through the fact he’s won 16 penalties – more than anyone else in the Premier League in the same period – and won more fouls than anyone else.
Palace fans would say he should have won more than his 531 free-kicks, having not got enough protection from referees, and perhaps for a club that dominated games more, he would have.
Arsenal, Everton, Tottenham and even Borussia Dortmund have all reportedly tried and failed to get him away from Palace, only for the club to stand firm.
However, Zaha has indicated this will be his last season with the club andhe expects to move in the next transfer window. The question now is whether the 27-year-old can make up for lost time.
With just the Community Shield on his honours list, joining a club who regularly challenge for silverware will be high on Zaha’s wishlist.
Staying in London could also be important to keeping Zaha on the right path and, with those two things in mind, perhaps a switch to Chelsea would suit him best.
The Blues are a club in transition, thanks to the enforced youth movement brought about by their transfer ban, and Zaha looks like he’d fit in well with the Stamford Bridge dressing room.
Chelsea have missed that trickster who can unlock a defence this season following Eden Hazard’s move to Real Madrid, and with Zaha having attempted a league-high 724 dribbles in his time with Palace, he could prove a good fit.
The only stumbling block might be the west Londoners having already agreed a deal for Ajax wideman Hakim Ziyech, but if they could get Zaha as well, could they pass up that opportunity, especially with Pedro and Willian set to move on?
Zaha needs to take that next step now or risk missing his window of opportunity. A switch to Chelsea makes sense all around for a player with plenty more still to offer.