The secret behind Wilfried Zaha’s short experience at Man Utd

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Wilfried Zaha contributed 1 goal in Galatasaray’s 3-2 victory over Manchester United in the second match of the Champions League group stage. Obviously, many people will forget that the Ivory Coast winger once played in a red shirt.

It was November 10, 2012, the 20th birthday of young talent Wilfried Zaha. Crystal Palace also had a trip to Weston Homes Stadium to face Peterborough in a Championship match. And there is no better birthday gift than Zaha becoming a hero with a stunning assist in the 82nd minute to help Crystal Palace win the final score 2-1. That dramatic victory helped the home team maintain the top spot in the rankings. The entire team and Crystal Palace fans present on the field were very excited by Zaha’s outstanding performance.

What’s more, even the opponents themselves realize that. Just a few hours after the match ended, Peterborough head coach Darren Ferguson called his father with an excited voice: “Dad! That kid is amazing. I bet he has all the qualities in a winger that you’re looking for.” No one knows how Sir Alex Feguson responded to that information. Just know that a few weeks later, a secret appointment took place in a hotel in London. And the three names that appear are Zaha, Sir Alex and Sir Bobby Charlton.

Here, a preliminary agreement on Zaha’s arrival at Old Trafford in the near future was approved. African players are required to keep this deal absolutely secret. Man Utd’s board of directors will take all steps sequentially, including convincing Crystal Palace to sell their promising star. Sir Alex’s assistant at that time, Rene Meulensteen, recalled: “This kid knows how to control the situation and has excellent passing skills. Overall, he has enough quality to play football in the Man Utd team.”

After ten years of “changing fortunes”, Zaha has just returned to Old Trafford in the Galatarasay shirt to face Man Utd in the Champions League. More notably, Zaha contributed 1 goal in the 3-2 victory, thereby helping the away team leave Old Trafford with all 3 points.

Reversing the past, there will be many mixed opinions about Zaha’s failure at Man Utd. However, it is clear that the Ivory Coast midfielder was also a victim of bad timing. Zaha signed an official contract with Man Utd in January 2013 under a 5.5-year contract. Accordingly, he was allowed to stay at Crystal Palace to complete the 2012/2013 season, before officially joining the Red Devils. But when signing the contract, no one told Zaha that this was Sir Alex’s last season, and in the future he would have to work with another strategist. That may not be someone who supports and gives you opportunities. But that’s football!

Zaha spent his only Christmas in Manchester surrounded by boredom and loneliness. The African-American player had dinner with the family of Dougie Freedman – head coach of Bolton Wanderers and Zaha’s former teacher when he was leading Crystal Palace’s youth team. Zaha ate a turkey dinner, played hockey with the Freedman kids, then returned alone to the cold house on Christmas Eve. “I witnessed and understood his situation. A lost talent. The trust of his surrounding teammates in his early years at Palace pushed Zaha to become the brightest young talent in the Premier League. But when he came to Man Utd, that belief was no longer there,” Freedman later shared.

The next day, the home team won 3-2 against Hull City and Zaha continued to be outside the list of 18 registered players. Moyes does not want to use Zaha for the rest of the season but has never directly said so. Zaha asked to return to his old team on loan but the offer was quickly rejected. Instead, a 6-month contract to Cardiff City was accepted. The 21-year-old winger packed his bags and moved to join Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team. This goes against Zaha’s wishes, but it is the only option. Cardiff was bottom of the table when Zaha joined, and eventually had to leave the Premier League without any improvement in rankings. Zaha also sank with the Welsh team with only 1 assist in 13 appearances.

Returning to Man Utd in the summer of 2014, there was a change on the coaching bench with Louis van Gaal, but Zaha’s future was still unclear. Even though he played a few pre-season matches, it seemed that “Steel Tulip” was not interested in keeping Zaha. Contacted by The Athletic last week to ask a few questions about Zaha when he was playing for Man Utd, coach Van Gaal took a long time to think before giving the answer: “It’s been 9 years, it’s hard to remember exactly what I thought about Wilfried. I think you have to ask him because he will know for sure what I said.”


Zaha will turn 31 next November. He has matured a lot compared to himself 10 years ago. This lovely young man has made 458 appearances for Crystal Palace, scoring 90 goals and 76 assists. This helps Zaha become a glorious part in the history of the London football team. He also has 31 caps for the Ivory Coast national team. And now it’s a new experience in Turkey, playing for last season’s defending domestic champions. Zaha assisted Galatasaray’s equalizer against FC Copenhagen in the first match in the Champions League group stage, before scoring against his former team Man Utd in the second match recently. It was definitely a memorable feeling during the return to the “Theater of Dreams”, a place that did not make Zaha’s dream come true.