From the moment David Moyes replaced Sir Alex Ferguson in July, United fans have been told to lower their expectations, a mantra which has been repeated through the summer and during the first three months of the campaign.
And yet, despite the cries for a toned-down and humble approach, there have been a few moments in which we have begrudgingly allowed ourselves to get carried away with excitement. Marouane Fellaini’s debut and Adnan Januzaj’s first start for the club were both greeted with the mixture of curiosity and excitement that characterises potentially important moments, as was Wilfried Zaha’s debut last night.
Despite having not played a single competitive minute for the club, the former Palace man had become one of United’s saviour in the eyes of those who regularly suggest all the problems crippling the team would be almost instantaneously solved if only David Moyes was brave enough to play the 20-year-old alongside Shinji Kagawa.
Considering the price-tag – £15m are a sizeable investment for a 20-year-old, particularly for a player who has never featured in a Premier League team and particularly considering United’s well known parsimony – and considering the appalling state of United’s options out wide, Moyes’ decision to systematically exclude Zaha had grown increasingly hard to understand.
Watching last night’s game, however, Moyes’ choice was partly justified, for while Zaha showed the change of pace and direct approach many Reds have been crying for over the last couple of seasons, the former Palace man showed that he remains very much a rough diamond in need of polishing.
The United manager had stressed the 20-year-old needs to refine some aspects of his game, his tactical diligence being arguably the most important of them. Against Norwich it was easy to see why, as Zaha was at times caught out of position when United surrendered possession, while other moments betrayed the rawness that still characterises him.
There were, however, plenty of positives too, as the former Palace man’s change of pace and ability to beat his man would have been heartwarmingly received by United fans watching the game who have had to endure Antonio Valencia’s mono-dimensional game, Nani’s inconsistence and Ashley Young’s tragic mediocrity for too long.
Even though many fans would love to see him starting more game and encouraging as Zaha’s debut was, it would be premature to expect him to be included on a regular basis.
The biggest critic many have directed at Moyes so far is that Zaha should be given as many opportunities as Adnan Januzaj, a perfectly sound logic one might say, but a rather flawed one at that.
For a start, having a blossoming teenager in the team doesn’t automatically guarantee other youngsters will develop at the same rate and secondly, while Januzaj could afford a couple of mistakes, Zaha’s hefty price-tag would attract a lot more scrutiny were the Crystal Palace man to struggle in his first outings.
David Moyes’ trophy cabinet might be still empty – as the media continue to point out – but the United manager has a proven record in developing youngsters, having nurtured the likes of Wayne Rooney, Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley among the others. At Everton, Moyes had a smaller squad at his disposal, meaning players would have to be thrown in at the deep end of the pool, while since joining United he’s seemed to consider phasing his young players in a better option.
Moyes gave Januzaj his debut when he thought the young Belgian was ready to handle the big stage and he’s likely to do the same with Zaha for whom the wait for a Premier League game could soon be over.
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