‘I made Xavi and Iniesta,’ was the claim coming from Louis van Gaal prior to The Netherlands’ World Cup clash with Spain this summer.
Okay, I may be paraphrasing a tad, but the general gist of the Dutchman’s run in with reporters pre-5-1 shocker of the then-world champions was that he had had an overriding hand in the development of two of the game’s greats. There’s also plenty of people who credit him for the emergence of Thomas Muller in Bayern Munich’s first-team set up, not to mention the fact that he showed overwhelming faith by fielding Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi - both 22 - at regular stages of the World Cup.
What it means? Van Gaal is a man who rightly or wrongly believes in the age old mantra; if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. The 62-year-old has probably never heard of ‘player power’, and if he has he’s chosen to abruptly ignore it for the duration of his managerial career.
It’s why a number of United players are fearing for their Old Trafford lives following Van Gaal’s arrival at the club, and why the likes of Adnan Januzaj, Phil Jones and David de Gea can all look forward to being given the chance to develop their skills whilst thriving in and around the starting XI, not while they wait to join it. But although the aforementioned trio can sleep soundly in the knowledge they’re some way down the club’s new manager’s flogging list, there’s no such good news for seemingly perennial struggler Wilfried Zaha.
The 21-year-old has been forgotten about during all the fanfare surrounding David Moyes’ acrimonious exit and Van Gaal’s subsequent appointment, and it’s only been in the last two weeks where his name has returned to the mainstream media in connection with his parent club. Yet whilst the former Crystal Palace man was tipped to shine by Sir Alex Ferguson, and a good deal of footballing critics I might add, the press would have you believe the only way for Zaha, is out.
The tricky winger’s stock with the fans has plunged to new depths since he failed to set the Premier League alight after his loan move to Cardiff City last term, and now the level of backing would have you believe that he’s running around with ‘Bebe’ on his back. However people must not forget that Zaha’s was an incredibly exciting arrival when he first signed on the dotted line in 2013.
Sir Alex was impressed enough to pay £10million upfront for Palace to let him leave, and had the legendary Scot not promptly retired soon after Zaha’s experience with United may have been oh so very different. For, try as he might, he was never able to gain Moyes’ trust, and I’m prepared to go out on a limb and say that he would have been sold on if the ex-Everton boss was still in the Old Trafford hotseat.
Of course he isn’t. And now the burden of responsibility will fall to Van Gaal, who must determine once and for all if Zaha has a future in his new-look Red Devils side. The likes of Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley and Nani have all been given the chance to shine under the beaming lights of The Theatre of Dreams, and they’ve all fallen short without too much aplomb.
Zaha on the other hand, coincidentally much in the same way as Shinji Kagawa, has never been given the platform the provide an indication as to whether or not he was simply an overrated purchase by an on-the-way-out Ferguson, or if he truly is the real deal.
The long and short of it is that Van Gaal prides himself on his abilities to harness the power of potential and routinely churn out gems. It would be fair, and perhaps wise, for him to give Zaha his crack at the whip.