Zaha Must Impress Van Gaal Early for the Sake of His Manchester United Future

Nick Miller@NickMiller79Featured ColumnistJuly 23, 2014

Manchester United's Wilfried Zaha during his team's  testimonial soccer match for Rio Ferdinand against Sevilla at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Friday Aug. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

There seems to be a sense of optimism around Manchester United at the moment.

Frankly, how could there not be, with Louis van Gaal installed as their new manager and making all the right noises, acting like he belongs in Sir Alex Ferguson's old chair rather than apologetically sitting there, as David Moyes did for much of his brief time at Old Trafford.

Jon Super/Associated Press

In addition, there is money to be spent. United have, of course, already shelled out north of £50 million on Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has made it clear that more money is available. When asked if United could spend the sort of money that Real Madrid and Barcelona have this summer, Woodward was quoted by the BBC as saying:

"Of course it's in our capabilities. We are not afraid of spending significant amounts of money in the transfer market. Whether it's a record or not doesn't really resonate with us."

However, before they start splashing huge sums on new players, United have a number of players on the periphery of their first team with a thing or two to prove.

Nani has been a constant source of frustration but is clearly hugely talented; Shinji Kagawa is, after two seasons at Old Trafford, looking like a similar story; Javier Hernandez has the potential to be an arch poacher but has not shown this in the last year or so; and then there's Wilfried Zaha.

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The rubber-limbed winger was signed from Crystal Palace last year, but he failed to make an impact with Moyes seemingly not trusting his still raw abilities, and eventually sending him out on loan to Cardiff.

Clint Hughes/Associated Press

There, once again, Zaha didn't make much of an impression, making just five starts as Cardiff dropped into the Championship, the spark Ole Gunnar Solskjaer presumably hoped he would provide missing.

Back at United, this could be a delicate time for Zaha. With a new manager arriving with new ideas, and a manager two removed from the one who actually signed him, there is of course a danger that he could get lost in the shuffle.

Van Gaal could decide that if he couldn't make an impression while on loan at Cardiff, then he is unlikely to help out a team with designs on winning the title.

Zaha certainly sounds like he's keen to impress the new man, quoted by the official Manchester United website as saying:

I've realised there are things about my game I need to work on and concentrate on and I know this is the best place to be if I want to improve. I really want to make myself a better player.

For me, I definitely feel like this is a clean slate. All I'm trying to do is impress the new manager and get into his squad. All I can do is give my all. There's a new manager and I want to make sure I show him what I can do.

The good news for Zaha is that Van Gaal is too smart to write off a player with so much natural talent. The bad news is that, as the quick and decisive calls he has already made before taking charge of a game at United have shown, Van Gaal will not have a surfeit of patience and indulge his young winger.

The early parts of this season will perhaps be the most important of Zaha's young career so far. He must not waste his chance.