It is barely a year since he appeared to have elite football at his feet, when signed by Sir Alex Ferguson and selected by Roy Hodgson to play seven minutes of England’s full international against Sweden. But Wilfried Zaha’s Manchester United future could be over before it begins if he does not start or perform against Norwich City in the Capital One Cup tonight.
United manager David Moyes has not given the impression that he is ready to start with Zaha against a Norwich City side who are likely to be weakened, with the more serious business of Premier League survival in their minds after slipping to third from bottom in the early running.
If the 20-year-old does not play a part, it is hard to see where he might feasibly fit in at all for United before January, at which point the manager has indicated he may be willing to let him leave Old Trafford on loan. A loan return to Crystal Palace seems unlikely, because it will not be a sign of the player moving forward.
But wherever he might go, there can be no guarantees that Ferguson’s last signing will make it back. By next summer, Moyes will be looking to re-shape the side and bring in his own players during the first United transfer window with his name on it.
Zaha’s struggle to convince Moyes has been puzzling. He featured on some of United’s pre-season tour and the new manager initially seemed convinced. The Old Trafford crowd did, too, during his second half appearance in Rio Ferdinand’s testimonial match against Seville in early August. But though he also appeared in the Community Shield against Wigan Athletic, Moyes subsequently concluded he was not ready.
One of the suggestions is that Zaha is not capable of retaining the ball. At 20, he is not exactly in the “one to watch” category and as an impact player who thrives on confidence, this struggle will have been profoundly difficult for him.
“I just don’t think we have had the right opportunity to get him on as much as we would have liked,” Moyes said yesterday. “We don’t want to put him in too quickly. We want to make it the right time. I’ve said I would look at it in January as I wanted to have him here for six months to see how we work.”
This is Moyes’ first opportunity to blood young players, with the previous round’s pairing with Liverpool decreeing that he must commit to experience. But his own quest to secure a first trophy – Ferguson has declared publicly hat his target for the season must be to win one of any description – points to him foregoing the kind of youthful line up which his predecessor tried on occasions like this. “We have got a squad of first team players who are all capable of playing, everyone is used to that, the crowd see that and expect it. We will see what we have got,” Moyes said.
He is likely to start with Javier Hernandez, with Robin van Persie very likely to be given a night off and Wayne Rooney possibly on the bench.
Chris Hughton has doubts about midfielder Alex Tettey (ankle) and striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel (toe) and other changes may be afoot, with Steven Whittaker and Nathan Redmond among those who could start.