Wilfried Zaha will attempt to complete a “fairy story” by firing Crystal Palace to promotion at Wembley on his final appearance for the club.
Winger Zaha joins Manchester United in a £15 million switch after this afternoon’s npower Championship play-off final showdown with Watford, and Eagles manager Ian Holloway is backing him to sign off in style.
“It would be a nice fairy story,” Holloway said. “Wilf will help Manchester United win games. I’ve never heard anyone talk about one player so much. He just needs to be left alone to play because his talent is so fresh and real and exciting.
“He might do enough right to get us what we need and that would be wonderful. We feel like we are losing a family member.”
Palace only agreed to sell Zaha to Old Trafford, where he will be Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signing for United, if they could loan him back for the rest of the season.
The 20-year-old responded to the challenge of helping the Eagles join him in the Barclays Premier League next season with both goals in their 2-0 semi-final win over Brighton.
And Holloway feels Zaha is ready to repay Palace’s faith in him once more as they battle for the estimated £120m jackpot on offer for the Wembley winners.
“How would he have been feeling if we’d been selfish and denied him that opportunity? What would he have produced for us?” added Holloway. “I think he will pay us back. We need him to play well because he’s a huge part of what we do.”
Zaha, who has been at Palace since he was eight, came to United’s attention when he was named the Championship’s player of the year last season. He has continued to impress this term, scoring eight goals and making his England debut as a substitute against Sweden in November.
“Wilf has got all the plaudits and rightly so, he’s had a great season and he had a great game against Brighton,” said Palace skipper Mile Jedinak. “But he knows, as we all do, that we can only achieve what we want to achieve as a team and we’re all pushing towards the same goal.”
If Palace do secure promotion at least defender Damien Delaney will only have to face Zaha twice, rather than every day in training.
“Sometimes when you’re playing against him he drives you a bit mental, he can make you look a little bit foolish,” said Delaney. “But I don’t think he knows any other way. He’s one of those naturally gifted players. You give him the ball and tell him, ‘go and enjoy yourself’.
“Obviously, you have to give him a bit of structure in the team shape, but in general he’s a one-off, such a good player.”
Meanwhile, two guards who kept Troy Deeney company while he was in prison will be among the 96 guests of the Watford striker tomorrow.
Three weeks ago, Deeney, pictured left, scored a dramatic injury-time winner against Leicester to seal Watford’s passage to the showdown, which will take place in front of a 90,000 crowd.
The elation that followed that strike could not have been more different to the feeling that Deeney was experiencing 12 months earlier when he was awaiting trial for affray following a street brawl in Birmingham.
Deeney’s worst fears came true in June 2012 when he was convicted and sentenced to ten months. But he has since turned his life around, scoring 20 goals to lead Watford to the verge of a place in the top flight.
The 24-year-old celebrated wildly with his family following the winner against the Foxes at Vicarage Road and he has repaid them for standing by him while he was in prison by picking up most of the tab for nearly 100 tickets for Monday’s game.
“I’ve had requests for 96,” the striker said. “I’ve got everybody – my nan, mum, brother, sister. I had to rewrite the list because I forgot one or two but I got one for everybody, so it’s going to be a good day – as long as we win. A lot of people paid for their own to be fair.”
Perhaps most tellingly, two of those tickets will go to guards he got to know during his time at Thorn Cross prison in Cheshire, where he spent the last part of his three months behind bars.
“I have got them a couple of tickets,” Deeney said. “I had football conversations with them, they were big on sport. Being up north there were Manchester United fans, Manchester City fans and Liverpool fans so me being a Birmingham fan wasn’t the best – I had to talk about the Premier League all the time.”