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15th Apr 2018

Manchester City want Wilfried Zaha, but he might be better off staying put

The grass isn't always greener

Reuben Pinder

He was the star of the show in Saturday’s M23 derby.

Wilfried Zaha fired Crystal Palace to a 3-2 victory yesterday in a hard fought match against arch rivals Brighton, the first ever Premier League match between the two sides to be played at Selhurst Park.

The forward opened the scoring after just five minutes, tapping the ball home from a yard out. Palace then doubled their lead through James Tomkins before the twenty minute mark, but Brighton kept themselves in the match with a goal from former Palace striker Glenn Murray. Zaha then restored Palace’s two-goal lead, getting on the end of a pin-point cross from Luka Milivojević with a bullet header.

José Izquierdo pulled another goal back for the visitors before half-time, but it would be the final goal of the game, and Palace would go on to withstand a barrage of late crosses from Brighton and win the match 3-2, taking one huge step closer to securing their Premier League status for one more season.

Zaha, as ever, was the star of the show. It is no shock, therefore, to read this morning that Manchester City are hoping to bring the forward to the Etihad in the summer. Of course, a move to City would be a step up in every way for Zaha; he would be paid more, be trained by the best coach in the world, win trophies and play alongside some of the best players in the world. But, as Zaha knows all too well, these moves don’t always work out.

After dragging Crystal Palace to promotion in 2012/13, Zaha moved to Manchester United as Sir Alex Ferguson’s last ever signing before he retired and was replaced by David Moyes. Palace fans felt no resentment towards the player for moving. He had earned it and was wished the best of luck.

After an excellent pre-season, Zaha was not given anywhere near enough opportunities to impress in an under-performing United side. Lazy assumptions that his attitude was to blame circulated and his relationship with David Moyes became fractured. He was loaned to Cardiff before returning to his spiritual home of Crystal Palace, first on loan before making the move permanent in January 2015.

Since returning home, he has gone from strength to strength, constantly striving to improve every aspect of his game, and is thriving in an environment where the fans adore him. During the past four seasons, Zaha has matured hugely, become stronger both mentally and physically and shouldered the responsibility of being Palace’s match winner.

It would be tempting to think that now would be the right time to have another crack at the big time. Indeed, it would be near impossible for any move to go as badly as the United move did, but he might well be better off staying put.

Part of what went wrong at Old Trafford was that Zaha felt homesick, unwanted and mismanaged. Now, Pep Guardiola would certainly take a different approach to managing Zaha than Moyes did; the City manager is famously very hands on with his young players and has been full of praise for Raheem Sterling this season, despite the flaws in his game. Pep’s positivity would likely improve Zaha’s game, but the failure of his year at United would still linger. He would once again be a small fish in a big pond; quite the opposite to his superhero status at Selhurst Park.

And then there is the obvious issue of game time. City will want to improve on their (pending) double this season and will thus have plenty of matches in which to rotate, but Zaha would still be competing with Leroy Sané, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva for minutes. The frustration of being on the bench could have a detrimental effect on his morale, regardless of the world class coaching he would be receiving.

Not to get all Against Modern Fooball on you, but too seldom do we see local heroes in football now. Zaha has a unique opportunity to cement his status as Palace’s greatest ever player, should he stay throughout his peak years. He arguably holds more importance than any other player in the league to their respective team. Without him, Palace have not won a match this season. With him, they have climbed out of the relegation zone after the worst possible start to the season.

Moving to a Champions League side is of course tempting, and he would not be berated for wanting to give it another crack, but Zaha will have learned from his previous move up north. The grass isn’t always greener.