Crystal Palace will ask Manchester United if they can keep Wilfried Zaha on loan again, after the young England international helped them secure passage to the Premier League yesterday.
In a tense but unspectacular playoff final at Wembley, during which both Palace and Watford played with the fear of losing out hanging over their heads, 20-year-old Zaha was the difference.
His pace and trickery out wide was a constant threat to Watford’s veteran Italian international defender Marco Cassetti. And even though for most of the game he just fell short of the finished product, Zaha ensured Watford remained tentative and on edge.
When the breakthrough came deep into extra time, Zaha’s constant tormenting of Cassetti was at the heart of events.
The Italian brought United’s £15 million colt down in the box with challenge that was simultaneously tentative and clumsy, and old head Kevin Phillips was on hand to smash home the most lucrative penalty in football history.
Zaha is scheduled to join United at the beginning of next season, as the loan agreement Palace cut with the Red Devils when relenting to sell him six months ago comes to an end.
But manager Ian Holloway is already scratching his head regarding the quality he knows the Eagles will need to survive in the Premier League, and he hopes (but doubts) that United can be convinced to let Zaha’s talent develop at Selhurst Park.
"I think [new United manager David Moyes would] be silly to give me him back to me,” Holloway said of his desire to keep Zaha after yesterday’s Wembley heroics.
“But you never know, now that we're up it might be realistic. We'll see."
Holloway credits Zaha’s “moment of genius” when flummoxing Cassetti for pushing Palace over the finish line. And even Watford manager Gianfranco Zola was forced to admit that the rangy winger was “the difference between the teams.”
"I have never questioned the abilities of Zaha," said Zola.
"In games like this where it is very balanced and tense, it is decided by the individuality of a player. He created that penalty from nothing. I also liked the way he managed himself on the pitch.
“Now he is going to play for the champions and the level that he has to play at is bigger, but I am sure he will learn and he is going to a place that is very good at improving players. He will go far, he has a lot of talent."
Whether or not Zaha has the ability to break right into Manchester United’s first-team remains to be seen however.
Moyes is the manager who gave a 16-year-old Wayne Rooney his first taste of senior football, and so we know he is open to blooding youngsters.
But in Nani, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and even Ryan Giggs, Zaha has some heavyweight competitors for a place on United’s flank. And so perhaps another six months at Palace, adjusting to the pace of life in the Premier League will be a good solution for all parties.
Is Zaha ready for life as a Red Devil?