Wilfried Zaha deserves praise for turning his back on Manchester United

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Wilfried Zaha should be praised for turning his back on Manchester United after completing a permanent return to Crystal Palace on January transfer deadline day.

The 22-year-old was under no obligation to sever his lucrative three-and-a-half year contract at Old Trafford, despite the fact he'd been afforded just four competitive appearances for the Red Devils since penning terms with the club in January 2013.

However, after choosing to commit his long-term future to Selhurst Park - the place where it all began for Zaha - he's restored at least a little faith in those detractors that had begun to question the player's hopes and aspirations for the future.

It's barely two years since Sir Alex Ferguson snapped up the talented young winger's signature, after predicting that Zaha had the potential to develop into an important first-team star at the Theatre of Dreams.

But, after retiring at the end of 2012/13 the twice capped England international never had the opportunity to actually work with the man responsible for bringing him to Manchester United, and as a result he found himself marginalised under the new stewardship of David Moyes last season.

Despite impressing on his first pre-season tour with Moyes, and showing glimpses of what he could offer in the Community Shield against Manchester City, Zaha's only other start came in the League Cup with just two substitute appearances in the Premier League that amounted to less than 30 minutes of action.

A loan move to Cardiff City followed in January 2104, but the Eagles academy product failed to rediscover his best form in South Wales, although it was hardly the ideal scenario for a player of Zaha's ilk to succeed in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's relegation-threatened side.

Still, his stint with the Bluebirds provided critics with another reason to further lambaste the languishing forward, who was waiting patiently for a fair chance to prove himself at the highest level.

Why did he fail at Old Trafford?

There have been numerous stories about Zaha's alleged application and poor attitude that have been blamed for halting his development at Manchester United, like the time when he turned up 45 minutes late for a reserve team game at Salford.

In truth, the writing was on the wall from the moment he turned up in jeans and trainers for a flight to Bangkok on the first leg of the Red Devils' 2013 summer tour, while every other member of the travelling squad arrived dressed up in club suit and tie.

That pre-season analogy perhaps best sums up the reputation that Zaha's struggled to shake off ever since joining the club, so it's understandable he jumped at the chance to return to south east London and link up with the Eagles again on an initial loan deal during the summer.

Louis van Gaal made quite clear that there would be no place in his team for Zaha the winger, suggesting the wide-man would have to evolve into a central striker to have any chance of featuring for Manchester United this season.

The Dutch coach appeared equally dismissive of the player during his first tour of the United States after giving some playing time to every other member of his travelling squad before Zaha's 45-minute cameo against Inter Milan in Washington DC.

Jesse Lingard, Reece James, Tyler Blackett and brothers Will and Michael Keane all got the nod ahead of Zaha, whose apparent incompetence to follow instructions from coaches regarding what he needed to do to improve, contributed towards his eventual downfall to the very bottom of the first-team pecking order.

It was that ineptitude that left the most lasting impression, overriding the innate attributes like the natural skill and blistering pace that Zaha does possess, which resulted in Van Gaal making him available for transfer.

In 19 appearances for Crystal Palace this season Zaha has already proved his capability of cutting it as a regular fixture in England's top-flight, albeit without the same amount of media glare and expectation that comes with playing for Manchester United.

"Just being a Manchester United footballer, the intensity of training, the expectation, it's really hard," explained Phil Neville in an interview with The Guardian. "It blows you away."

Alan Pardew has certainly seen the light with regards to Zaha, capitalising on Neil Warnock's initial foresight to bring the seemingly insecure enigma back to familiar surroundings in the hope of coaxing him back to the sort of player that prompted Manchester United to pay £10 million for his services two years ago.

"Wilf is a diamond, but being a Manchester United footballer is really hard," - Phil Neville

Whatever the former Newcastle United boss is doing seems to be working after the revitalised star confirmed he has a smile back on his face during a recent interview with the London Evening Standard.

"This gaffer has put trust in me and I am trying to give it back by performing for the team," he said. "I have a smile on my face because I am back on the pitch. I enjoy playing, so when I am on the pitch I am happy.

"To find a manager that has got trust in me [is important]. I will do tricks and lose the ball but if I get the chance I will either try to score or set up a chance."

"Obviously there was a period [at Manchester United] where I thought, 'What is going on here?'" Zaha added. "But it is important not to think that way and remain professional. I knew that if I got the chance I needed to take it and not dwell on the past.

"When I am here I feel more confident. I have lived in south London all my life and my family is here. I cannot keep that in my head all the time because I could have another move but Palace is my home."

The five-and-a-half year contract that's been offered proves that Crystal Palace believe in Zaha's ability, and now he has a perfect opportunity to repay the faith shown by his former club by helping them retain their Premier League status next season.

According to BBC Sport, the deal is worth an initial £3 million, but could rise to £6 million with add-ons, while United also have a future sell-on clause. Irrespective of the small print, it looks like a great move all round.

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Crystal Palace
Premier League
Manchester United
Wilfried Zaha

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