James Scowcroft: Wilfried Zaha is ready to step straight into Manchester United's first team

England winger has grown to become very close to the finished article since he lit up Old Trafford 13 months ago in League Cup

I'll never forget the day, walking off the Crystal Palace training ground in Beckenham, having witnessed Victor Moses embarrass senior players in training.

It wasn't the first time the 17-year-old had done it, but Victor's laid-back approach and attitude at the time, years before he made it to Chelsea, was holding him back from hitting the heights his team-mates, coaches and manager wanted him to reach. One of the great aspects of watching a young player arrive on the scene is the total uncertainty about whether the individual you see playing at 15 will make it or not.

"Vic will either be playing on Hackney Marshes or the Champions League in 10 years' time," I said to one of the youth coaches, Adam Sells, as we left the pitch. "No," he replied. "It will definitely be Champions League. But wait until you see the lad coming through who's even better. He's two years younger than Victor. He's called Wilfried Zaha. His potential's staggering."

Potential. The big word for any young player coming through. Will they? Won't they? How far could they go? Well, on Tuesday night Zaha gave a 45-minute performance against a very experienced Premier League back four at Stoke that told us his rise through the ranks is about more than just potential. It told us why Manchester United and Arsenal are so interested in him.

The performance has so far gone virtually under the radar, partly due to Ian Holloway's amazing, classic post-match outburst about someone's suggestion he'd dived. It took Zaha five or 10 minutes to get into that FA Cup third-round replay, but the big change happened when Holloway switched him from the right wing to the left. The move allowed Zaha to play in his favourite position: to pick the ball up deep and start running at the Premier League's third meanest defence.

Zaha has wonderful ball manipulation skills, especially his ability to swap the ball from either foot, in a blink of an eye, while keeping perfect balance. This allows him to go past players at will, in the tightest of spaces. I've watched him very closely over the past 18 months and the experience he's gathered playing in a very competitive Championship – in front of crowds of up to 30,000 – has proved invaluable.

It's better than being watched by a handful of people in the new under-21 league, at a non-league ground. He's now clocked up more than 100 senior first-team appearances, making the step up to the next level easier for him when it happens. He's ready to step straight into United's first team.

The last time Zaha played against Premier League opposition it was at Old Trafford, against United in last season's Carling Cup quarter-final, and he gave Rafael da Silva a difficult time. But he's actually a very different player from the one we saw in December 2011 and he's come a long way since then. Back then, he was still at the stage where he wasn't always able to make the right decision about when to use his ability to manipulate the ball at speed and take his man on – and when to look for the other options which a team-mate might provide.

That's the ability he has developed in the past 13 months. It's a big comparison to make, but he's not too dissimilar to the way Cristiano Ronaldo started out at Old Trafford. Ronaldo had to learn quickly, about when to have the awareness not to take his opponent on but to release the ball, when defenders doubled up on him.

At the Britannia, we saw Zaha's wonderful knack of running at defenders, slowing them down, getting them on the back foot, then bursting past them at pace. He earned one penalty in the first half, but could easily have been three as he slipped like an eel. His second penalty appeal earned Zaha the yellow card that so incensed Holloway.

Stoke manager Tony Pulis reacted by man-marking Zaha – something that is now common every week in the Championship. But in the confines of Beckenham, Holloway has been preparing the 20-year-old for this. He's been having him man-marked in training every day.

Zaha didn't appear for the second half at Stoke – Palace have bigger fish to fry as they try to reach the promised land of the Premier League. They currently sit fourth in the Championship, two points off automatic promotion. While every player does have a price, the club would be crazy to sell him now, in such a strong position. There will be some soul-searching going on.

Palace poser: To sell or push for promotion

Crystal Palace's quandary about whether to sell Wilfried Zaha and jeopardise their promotion prospects has intensified because the only bid, from Manchester United, is £5m plus £5m add-ons, a figure well short of the £12m asking price.

Though Arsène Wenger said today that Arsenal "are looking at him", he said they had not yet made a bid. The lack of other suitors for the 20-year-old has limited the price Palace can command – a worry for a club which must balance the potential income with supporters' expectations of a promotion push. "I don't know if Manchester United are in for him," Wenger said. "Anyway, if you call any club for any player, they will tell you Man United, Milan, Real Madrid are in for him."

Ian Herbert

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
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.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game