Kevin Garside: How will Wilfried Zaha cope with the pressure of expectation at Manchester United?

The Way I See It: 'Palace Pele' carries the same baggage that proved too heavy for Vince Hilaire

On Saturday afternoon, among the endless FA Cup bulletins, a tweet from Rory McIlroy glowed in the football fug. It was a video of an internet phenomenon in the United States, 18 months old and whacking balls left-handed around the garage with a right-handed club. "Check out this little kid hit a golfball," implored a golfer who has some expertise in the field, having been an infant prodigy of some import himself.

McIlroy was hooked by the irresistible pull of the "next big thing". There is no force quite like it in sport. The unearthing of a jewel, the next Mike Tyson (still waiting), the new Messi (100 years from now, maybe?), a neo Usain Bolt (will there ever be another like him?). In truth, most don't amount to much. McIlroy is a rare example of one who did, converting a talent that was captured chipping golfballs into washing machines at nine years old into major success.

Manchester United have invested £15m in football's next big thing. The Crystal Palace priesthood are persuaded that Wilfried Zaha is made for the game's highest stage. They point out that David Beckham did not make his Premier League debut at Old Trafford until he was 20, the same age as Zaha. Before that he was dispatched to the finishing school of the lower leagues as a Preston loanee. Zaha will play out the season at Selhurst Park, stepping out in red next term.

It is unusual for a diamond to emerge so late in the piece. Ian Wright was a tardy developer, coming through the same Selhurst Park induction en route to the Arsenal Hall of Fame. Cyrille Regis slipped through the net without ever being offered a trial by a professional club despite a hat-trick against QPR Youth for his junior team in Brent. He was 19 before he was picked up by West Bromwich in 1977. The late Ian Hutchinson, one of Chelsea's 1970 FA Cup-winning team, progressed to the professional ranks without getting a game for his school team. Late flowers do bloom, but rarely.

Zaha carries the same baggage that proved too weighty for Vince Hilaire, the Palace Pele in Terry Venables' "Team of the Eighties", a label bestowed by Jimmy Greaves projecting a future that never came to pass. England was emerging from the dark age of 1970s austerity. Hilaire was the false nine before the discovery was made in 21st-century Spain, looping in and out of the space between midfield and a forward line of – apologies to Mike Flanagan and Dave Swindlehurst – lumpy finishers from the lower divisions.

He was plucked from a youth team that also included Kenny Sansom and went on to star in successive promotions from the Third to the First Division. The kit was old Peru, the diagonal red slash across a white shirt adding to the drama. Sansom trained on, earning a move to Arsenal and a long international career at left-back. Hilaire did not. Palace were relegated in 1981. Venables decamped to QPR, Hilaire to Luton and Portsmouth via San Jose Earthquakes.

Zaha's video compilation on YouTube reveals the requisite dexterity of the deity-to-be. Stepovers come as standard, the back-heeled switch in direction is Ronaldo-esque and the change of pace impressive. But will it be enough against better men? Robinho took every trick in the book to Real Madrid, to Manchester City, to Milan, yet still no meat on the bone. At 29 he has come and gone. Prodigies are 10-a-penny in Brazil. We await the arrival in Europe of the next yellow-shirted Merlin, Neymar, reportedly heading to Barcelona after the next World Cup. He might be Ronaldinho-good. Or he could end up at Newcastle, an echo of Mirandinha.

In golf, the blond supernova from Welwyn Garden City, Tom Lewis, was packaged as the new Nick Faldo after leading the Open as an amateur at Royal St George's two years ago. Today it is a matter of celebration if he makes a cut on the European Tour. In rugby Danny Cipriani was the new Jonny Wilkinson. He was another flare that went out prematurely and is best remembered as an ex-boyfriend of Kelly Brook, which makes him a player of sorts. So there is plenty riding on Zaha's young shoulders. The temperature has already gone up a notch now that he turns out for Palace as a Manchester United loan player. He might as well get used to it. The window on his world is only going to get bigger. The choice of T-shirt worn to his medical in Manchester demonstrated as much, causing a mini Twitter storm. It also betrayed the cocky certainty of youth. He will need every ounce of that in six months' time – assuming, of course, that he is the real deal Fergie hopes he is.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
tech
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
Extras
indybest
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor