As Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing, Wilfried Zaha, must have thought his career was only heading in one direction after leaving Crystal Palace.
Yet this evening Zaha could pull on an England shirt for the ninth time since he joined Manchester United in January for £15m, despite having yet to appear for a single minute in the Premier League.
Zaha was immediately loaned back to Palace and inspired them to play-off victory at Wembley in May. However, besides his appearance at the same venue in the Community Shield for his new club and the Capital One Cup tie against Norwich earlier this month, the winger has struggled to make an impression on new United manager David Moyes and is now expected to be loaned out in January.
Newcastle, Everton and Fulham are understood to be among a long list of Premier League clubs who have already registered their interest in taking a player who, by contrast, has played in four of the five European Championship qualifiers for Gareth Southgate’s Under-21s this season.
Tonight’s meeting with San Marino in Shrewsbury comes after a week when a video of Zaha out celebrating his 21st birthday in a Croydon nightclub hours before United’s Premier League victory over Arsenal at Old Trafford emerged online, with pictures of him smoking a “shisha stick” at a house party also proving popular on social networks.
A source close to the player has told The Independent that Zaha remains focused on winning a regular starting place in the United team, although they acknowledged it has been a difficult transition for him, given Ferguson’s surprise departure from Old Trafford at the end of last season.
The emergence of 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj as a rival for a starting spot has also not helped Zaha’s chances and Moyes is thought to favour a loan spell at another Premier League club in order to avoid what the source described as “having too much time on his hands”. That is unlikely to be bottom side Palace – who are still to name their new manager after reports yesterday that Dynamo Moscow manager Dan Petrescu has turned them down – as United would prefer him to prove himself at a side who are not involved in a relegation battle.
Zaha has so far made two appearances for England’s senior sides in friendlies against Sweden and Scotland but has been consigned to the Under-21s since then. He is technically still eligible to play for Ivory Coast in next year’s World Cup, having been born there, although he has previously turned them down.
After Thursday’s 3-0 win over Finland, Southgate is expected to bring in some new faces for what should be a straightforward task against San Marino. The exciting front four partnership developing between Zaha, Ravel Morrison, Raheem Sterling and Saido Berahino will definitely be put on ice owing to Berahino’s suspension, with Patrick Bamford – the striker on loan with MK Dons from Chelsea – in contention to start, having been called up by Southgate as cover.