By Tom J Doyle
Former Crystal Palace midfielder John Salako believes new Manchester United recruit Wilfried Zaha could finally be the replacement for club legend Cristiano Ronaldo that Sir Alex Ferguson has been looking for.
The Red Devils wrapped up a £17 million January deal with the Eagles for the services of Zaha, which will see the gifted 20-year-old stay on loan with Palace until the end of the season and then move to Old Trafford in the summer.
And Salako – who is also a youth coach with the London club – suggests with enough hard work and determination, Zaha can fulfil his potential with the Premier League leaders and emulate the 2008 Ballon d’Or winner’s success.
“Manchester United never really replaced Cristiano Ronaldo and I really do think Wilfried Zaha’s got that kind of ability,” he told Goal.com.
“If he can match half of Ronaldo’s dedication, drive, focus and desire to be the best player in the world, he’ll have a chance.
“Certainly working under Sir Alex in that environment at Man United, he couldn’t go anywhere better. I just think he’s going to be an absolute star there.
“The lad’s got everything; he’s strong, quick and got so much ability, but he needs to learn the game – at the moment he’s still quite raw.”
Zaha has wowed Championship crowds this season with a number of sumptuous displays, and impressed enough to win an England international cap with a substitute’s appearance against Sweden in November.
However, Salako feels Zaha is at the point in his career where he will have to buckle down and put in the effort to match his talent, and avoid the fate of many promising youngsters who struggle when they move to a ‘big’ club.
He continued: “He’s not a kid, he’s 20, he’s played nearly 100 games so he’s going to have to really mature now and take this on board because I think he’s going to have to work hard.
“It’s going to be about his mentality and desire and really what he wants for himself because he’s going to have every opportunity going into a club like Man United.
“The lads do get carried away; they think it’s all about being at a big club and wearing the tracksuit and you’ve made it, but you haven’t.
“A lot of these kids should perhaps stay at smaller clubs and build their careers, but I’m glad that Wilfried’s dreams are finally coming true and Palace get a decent fee.”
And the 43-year-old also praised the fact that English football as a whole will benefit from the big-money deal, with Eagles boss Ian Holloway investing in other clubs with the substantial fee for Zaha.
Salako added: “It’s a fantastic move for football – there’s a young lad who’s come through the ranks at Palace, he’s done well, he’s made his England debut, and for that fee he’s going to arguably the biggest club in the world.
“The world’s going to be at his feet and that money is going to go to Palace. Ian Holloway’s already spending it in the lower leagues so that’s going to get filtered through, so it’s a great story for English football.”
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