Rising Manchester United star Wilfried Zaha on way to living up to his £15m price-tag

Now a United player, England prospect is set for a tilt at the European Under-21 title

Nervously clutching his kitbag, Wilfried Zaha shuffled in his seat and thought long and hard when asked how the last six months have changed his life. “I can't even put it into words,” he said. “It's just happened so fast really. I just thank God. I'm just... happy.”

Zaha – born in the Ivory Coast but raised in south London after moving to the UK at the age of four – was speaking after scoring his first goal for England Under-21 and being named man of the match in the 3-0 friendly victory over Romania on Thursday night. This came, of course, after Manchester United signed him in January, paying Crystal Palace a record fee for a Championship player that could eventually rise to £15 million.

Two months previously, Zaha had made his full England debut against Sweden in Stockholm to cap a meteoric rise that he is clearly still coming to terms with.

"I don't think I'll ever get used to it," reflected the young winger, who is seeing out the rest of this season on loan back at Palace, the club where he made his name.

"The difference is I am more star-struck when I'm playing with the senior England players as opposed to the Under-21s. Playing with the likes of Steven Gerrard is ridiculous, especially because of his passing range. I've been watching these players on Match of the Day for so many years and wanting to play like them and then to actually be called up and wear the England shirt is just a dream. Obviously I will have to get used to it and just try to do what I have to do. But it is also enjoyable playing with the Under-21s as we can have a good laugh and we're playing well together."

There is a certain innocence about Zaha that makes his story even more endearing. When England's Under-21 side last played in the European Championships in June 2011, he admitted he wasn't even aware the tournament was taking place.

Still only 18, he had already played a full season in Palace's first team fighting against relegation, having made his debut the previous season. Now, with over 120 appearances for the club he joined at the age of 12 under his belt, Zaha could be the star at this summer's European Under-21 Championship finals in Israel.

"It will be more practice for me for when I go to pre-season training with United," he added. "It's a chance for me to better myself in different ways and to go out on the big stage.

"It means a lot to me, because for all the stuff I hear from people about me being a good player, there's many others who say I'm overrated. This will give me the chance to show people what I'm all about and why I've got to where I've got now. It will be a crazy experience so I'm just looking forward to it."

The England Under-21 manager, Stuart Pearce, has used Zaha as a central striker in his last two matches and his burgeoning understanding with Liverpool teenager Raheem Sterling will have been noted by senior coach Gary Neville. Friends off the pitch, Zaha and Sterling are likely to be on opposing sides in one of English football's fiercest club rivalries next season but could provide the creative spark for the national team in the World Cup in Brazil next year and beyond.

"We have had a connection from the moment we met," said Zaha. "He's got that banter and the fact we went to the seniors together has made our friendship stronger. There's just that belief around the Under-21 squad. Seeing the players that we have got and the way we are playing means we know we have a chance."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore