As Wilfried Zaha gears up for his return to Old Trafford with Galatasaray in a crucial Champions League match, the Ivory Coast international opens up about the challenges and setbacks he faced during his earlier stint with Manchester United.
Zaha’s journey from a promising signing to an uncertain and disappointing period underlines the resilience and growth that now define his career.
Great Expectations and Disappointment
In January 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing for Manchester United was Wilfried Zaha.
Zaha’s arrival carried high expectations, fueled by his role in Crystal Palace’s unlikely Premier League promotion.
The prospect of Zaha becoming a global superstar was on the horizon, but the reality at Old Trafford would prove to be quite different.
Struggles Under David Moyes
Upon joining Manchester United in the summer of 2013, under new manager David Moyes, Zaha’s fortunes took a sharp downturn.
An uninspiring performance in the Community Shield match against Wigan Athletic resulted in his swift removal from the team.
This marked the beginning of a challenging period, with Zaha having to wait almost three months for another opportunity, which came in the form of a Carabao Cup tie against Norwich on October 29.
Limited Premier League Appearances
Zaha’s Premier League appearances for Manchester United were scarce, with just two brief substitute appearances totaling 28 minutes during successive weekends in December.
After an unsuccessful loan spell with Cardiff, the winger ultimately returned to Crystal Palace on an initial loan, a move that later became permanent at the end of the 2014–15 season.
Set Up to Fail
In a candid interview on Total Media’s On The Judy podcast in 2021, Zaha shed light on the challenges he faced during his ill-fated stint at Old Trafford.
He described returning to the club under the management of Louis van Gaal, who had just participated in the World Cup.
Van Gaal presented Zaha with an ultimatum: play as a wing-back or a striker, positions entirely unfamiliar to him.
Zaha felt that this decision was akin to setting him up for failure, particularly following his earlier experiences under David Moyes.
Mental Struggles and Isolation
Zaha’s struggles extended beyond the pitch.
He shared his personal battle with mental challenges, admitting that he was in a “very bad place” during his time at Manchester United.
Feeling isolated and undervalued, he recounted how he often engaged in self-destructive behavior, seeking solace outside of football.
His sense of isolation was further emphasized by the memory of practicing with Shinji Kagawa, as they were often the only two players left out of regular training sessions.
The Return to Old Trafford
As Wilfried Zaha prepares to step onto the Old Trafford pitch once more, he does so with an opportunity to showcase the immense growth and resilience he has exhibited since his difficult days at Manchester United.
This return not only symbolizes a crucial moment in his career but also a chance for redemption and a reminder of the remarkable journey that has brought him back to one of the world’s most iconic football stadiums.