Ian Holloway: Wilfried Zaha could have made a similar impact to Cristiano Ronaldo if Sir Alex Ferguson had stayed at Manchester United

Ian Holloway by Ian Holloway / 30 July 2019, 10:21

Wilfried Zaha is dominating the transfer market at the moment, with both Arsenal and Everton reportedly keen on luring him away from Crystal Palace. Ian Holloway, who managed the 26-year-old during his time in charge of the Eagles, reveals what the player was like to work with, why he could have followed in the footsteps in Cristiano Ronaldo, and what he regards as his best piece of management.

Wilfried Zaha is the most talented person I’ve ever seen with a football. He can make the damn thing sing. I’m not exaggerating. The Crystal Palace players would put music on in the dressing room and Wilf would dance with the ball at his feet, all in time with the beat.

If you look at Cristiano Ronaldo when he first went to Man Utd, I felt Wilf would be able to do that with the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson. I actually rang The Great Man myself. Crystal Palace had just beaten Peterborough, managed by Darren Ferguson, who saw the winning goal that Wilf helped create for us from one of their corners. It was absolutely outstanding.

The trouble for me was Wilf was out of contact with his agent so he was a fish that was being chased by sharks. They all wanted a piece of him, and it was impossible to control. His mind was going.

He’s so pure, he’s like white snow. All he wanted to do was get better. All he wanted to do was have the ball. The only thing I felt that he needed was someone to totally believe in him. When he met Sir Alex and Sir Bobby Charlton that was it, he was made up.

Luckily me and the club managed to do a stroke of genius by selling Zaha to Man Utd and then borrow him back all in the same go. Getting him back on loan is probably the best bit of management I’ve ever done. Wilf was then vital to our promotion up to the Premier League. He scored two goals in the play off semi-final, and he got us the penalty which won us the Final.

Click here for Ian Holloway's thoughts on the Sheffield Wedneday job

From my point of view, the only thing that went wrong for Wilf is that Sir Alex retired that summer, because I wanted his experience. Wilf didn’t believe that he was as good as I believed he could be. He always wanted the ball but he had to learn how to give it to someone else, and then sprint. He didn’t realise how important it is to make off-the-ball movements.

Roy Hodgson and Ray Lewington have since added to his game massively. It’s all about end product with wide men and Wilf got 10 goals in 34 league games last year. Roy was so clever with him, he played him up the middle, so he was on the last man all the time and didn’t have to track back. He’s learned how to run away from defenders because all he wanted to do was come towards the ball to get it. He’s like a complete top race horse, he’s unbelievable.

If I could play for the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or Mauricio Pochettino every week and strip their knowledge I’d be in my element. I would die for every one of them. I’m so jealous of these young lads now because all I wanted to do as a player was soak up information. Gerry Francis - my manager at Bristol Rovers - taught me how to get better. All I wanted to do was improve. It’s not where you start, it’s where you end up that matters.

I would just love Wilf to get an opportunity. Whoever it is, I hope they realise how pure he is, and just be patient with him. If he makes the right move and gets someone that loves him, puts their arm around him and believes in him, then I think he could be sensational.

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