Manchester United have made first contact with Crystal Palace about the purchase of Wilfried Zaha, the prodigious 20-year-old England international, and there are early indications that they will have no competition in their pursuit of him.
United's initial offer appears to be short of Palace's £12m valuation for the player, who was superb in the south London club's 2-1 win at Old Trafford in the League Cup quarter-final 13 months ago. The approach has left the Palace board in a quandary about the potential damage to their Championship promotion hopes which Zaha's departure would bring – and the likely dismay of fans at the player's transfer. But Zaha's form has suffered since November, when he was called up to Roy Hodgson's England squad to face Sweden, and he is on the brink of being dropped. That has heightened Palace's awareness that if they do not sell now, they risk the price decreasing by the summer.
United will have expected tough competition for a player who has been watched several times by Arsenal chief scout Steve Rowley and has also been monitored by Tottenham. But the factors weighing against an Arsenal move include the general consensus at the north London club that Theo Walcott will stay – even though he has not yet received a new contract. Arsenal also have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who plays in the same position.
Tottenham's difficult relationship in the transfer market with Palace may militate against the two doing business and there are questions as to whether Spurs are prepared to offer enough money. Spurs' protracted move to sign John Bostock from Palace, which was eventually settled at a tribunal in July 2008, soured relations. Bostock is yet to start a game for Spurs and has spent the last three years out on loan. There was also rancour over Wayne Routledge, whose transfer from Selhurst Park to White Hart Lane in 2005 was also settled by a tribunal. The £1.25m fee was to rise to £2m depending on appearances but Routledge only started five times for Spurs. It is understood that Manchester City will not be in the running for Zaha, though manager Roberto Mancini is an admirer.
Walcott's position is not entirely resolved, with no major new contract for the player yet – despite the suggestion that the club intend to raise his potential new deal to a value of £25m over the next five years. Arsenal's stance is understood to be softening. The new contract would potentially be worth £90,000 a week with signing-on fees raising its value to £25m in total over the contract. No firm offer has yet been made to Walcott or his representatives. The 23-year-old is out of contract in the summer and perilously close to being able to walk away as a free agent. The longer time goes on, the stronger the hand that Walcott holds.
Arsenal are prepared to sell Bacary Sagna in the summer – he has just one further season on his contract – and consider the Montpellier right-back Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa a potential replacement.