Sun. Mar 7th, 2021

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Wilfried Zaha opens up on his depression at Manchester United

6 min read

Wilfried Zaha has lifted the lid on the depression he suffered during his miserable spell at Manchester United, and reveals he was given just one training session to prove his worth by Louis van Gaal.

Zaha made just only appearances under David Moyes at Old Trafford after arriving from Crystal Palace in January 2013, when he arrived for his medical wearing a t-shirt with his new team-mate Ryan Giggs’ former lover, Imogen Thomas, on.

Having spent the second half of his one full season there on loan at Cardiff, Zaha returned with van Gaal in charge and has recalled how the Dutchman forced him to turn into a striker to get into the team and that he felt he was being set up to fail.

Wilfried Zaha has opened up on the depression he suffered with at Manchester United

Wilfried Zaha has opened up on the depression he suffered with at Manchester United

Speaking on the On the Judy podcast, Zaha said about his time at United and arriving under Moyes: ‘Right place at the wrong time, really. I look back and think there’s nothing else I could have really done. 

‘That whole period, people ask me if I regret it but no. It’s a learning curve, it made me so much stronger mentally, I met some amazing players, some amazing people over there. I’m glad I went there and it made me who I am now.

‘I tried to go back on loan to Palace before and David Moyes wouldn’t let me. I don’t know for what reason, and they just shipped me off to Cardiff. I went there and I was a shadow of myself, I wasn’t speaking to anyone. The player that I am now, I was not myself at all. 

‘So I went there, added relegation on my CV, went back to United, it was van Gaal by then. And when he came back off the World Cup where he played Robin van Persie and Robben up front, so basically he gave me two options – you’re either a wing back or a striker.

‘Those positions are positions I’ve never played before. So it’s like I’m being set up to fail here. This is off of coming back from David Moyes, and I’m shattered from just how everything worked out. I go back and I get that, either a striker or a wing back. I can’t do either. 

Zaha was forced to play up front in pre-season by Louis van Gaal

Van Gaal gave Zaha just one training session to prove himself

Zaha was forced to play up front and given just one training session to prove himself

‘Now, I can vary my game with years of playing you get experience. Back then I wasn’t good with my back to goal, I didn’t have that awareness, I’m not good with that. I remember I had to play striker. 

‘On pre-season we’re playing Inter Milan, I had to play against Vidic, we played against Real, I’m playing against Pepe and Ramos up front, thinking this guy’s boying me. It’s mad, I’m being thrown in the deep end against the maddest teams.’

It was after the pre-season trip to America that Zaha reveals he was given an ultimatum by van Gaal and his assistant, Giggs, and felt that he was on trial.

He continues: ‘I remember I came back that year – I don’t think I’ve said this before – they gave me one more session for them to decide [if you’re going to stay or not?] yeah. Van Gaal and Giggs was his assistant. 

Zaha admits to being star struck by sharing a dressing room with the likes of Robin van Persie

Zaha admits to being star struck by sharing a dressing room with the likes of Robin van Persie

‘These are things I don’t even argue with. That’s why I say it made me who I am now, my confidence and just how I am. It just changed me, all those things I went through. 

‘This training session, I was basically on trial again. I remember the first time I went there I got a house, and this time I was thinking I didn’t know what was going to happen so I was just staying in a hotel – I had no idea what was going to happen with me.

‘My brother was up there at first with his family, but then he had to go back so I was just by myself throughout the whole David Moyes period, that’s when I just went through depression and all sorts. I couldn’t cook so I wasn’t even eating proper.

Zaha says he and Shinji Kagawa were kept away from first-team training at the time

Zaha says he and Shinji Kagawa were kept away from first-team training at the time

‘That training session, Rooney told me I trained well. Went back in and went to see them and they were just like, “we don’t think you’re good enough – you can go”. This was pre-season. I didn’t [argue it]. I was so relieved, thank you for telling me straight and letting me go out on loan so I can restart my career.’

Zaha admits it was a difficult time for him, having left his home with Crystal Palace in south London for the reigning champions. 

He admits to feeling adrift form the first team, and was reduced to doing separate sessions focused on drills instead of full training.

He continued: ‘I was in a very bad place, literally going out all the time, doing mad stuff. I was a mess. When you know you’re not playing, the team are training and you’re just stood on the side doing some training drill. 

‘I remember it was just me and Kagawa doing some shooting drill just the two of us. So you know they don’t care about you basically. Not even training with the Under 23s, week in week out. You’re not getting a look in.’ 

Zaha featured just four times under David Moyes after joining from Crystal Palace in 2013

Zaha featured just four times under David Moyes after joining from Crystal Palace in 2013

Zaha struggled at Old Trafford

He was sent on loan to Cardiff in January 2014

He struggled in one season at Old Trafford and was sent on loan to Cardiff in the January

Zaha was originally signed by Sir Alex Ferguson and immediately sent back on loan to Palace, which meant he didn’t get a league winners’ bonus. He did not get a chance to work with United’s legendary manager, who retired that summer and chose Moyes as his successor.

He admits it did not help his situation, and that he was star struck upon arrival. 

‘I was sat next to Giggs. I’m thinking oh my days, I’m seeing Rooney there, Vidic, Rio, van Persie. Nani was still there and he is like a copy of Ronaldo, his frame, it’s so mad. 

Zaha turned up to his United medical in January 2013 wearing a t-shirt with Imogen Thomas on

Zaha turned up to his United medical in January 2013 wearing a t-shirt with Imogen Thomas on

‘And then when you actually play with them, it’s crazy. I was 100 per cent star struck when I was there.  

‘Obviously I’m gutted [that Ferguson left], because I spoke to him and I seen what he done and what he’s made players into, everyone has seen what he’s done with Ronaldo. So I was gutted that he left, but I was “it is what it is”.’

Zaha made headlines when he turned up for his United medical wearing a t-shirt with a scantily-clad Imogen Thomas on – but he admits he had no idea about the previous relationship between the Welsh model and Giggs.

‘The Imogen thing. I had no idea. I saw it blowing up on Twitter, but I had no idea about any of it. It was just a top I wore, I had no idea who the girl was on the top or whatever!’

Zaha was appearing on Total Media’s On the Judy podcast 

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