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Hungry like the wilf

Wilfried Zaha knew he had to turn his career around after Manchester United flop… as he feared he would end up in League One

Winger is wanted by Spurs after being revitalised at Crystal Palace - and admits Kevin de Bruyne is his inspiration

WILFRIED ZAHA knew he had to sort himself out — or end up in League One.

The Crystal Palace winger is once again set to clean up at their end-of-season awards after another impressive Prem campaign.

Wilfried Zaha has been Crystal Palace’s star man this season

AP:Associated Press
Wilfried Zaha has been Crystal Palace’s star man this season

Spurs are among a string of clubs interested in him, while Palace pray he pens a new deal this summer.

Keep up to date with all the latest news, gossip, rumours and done deals in SunSport’s live transfer blog

Now Zaha, 24, has revealed for the first time the abuse he suffered from fans following his nightmare spell at Manchester United.

But the winger says the boo-boys inspired him to prove critics wrong.

Zaha ended up being Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing at United in a £15million deal in January 2013.

But David Moyes took over in the summer and the winger only ever made two league substitute appearances.

Zaha flopped at United after £17million move

Getty Images
Wilfried Zaha flopped at Manchester United after a £15million move

Since returning to Palace, initially on loan, before making it into a permanent deal in Janaury 2015, Zaha has pushed on — and is using Kevin De Bruyne as inspiration.

The Belgian star struggled in his first spell in the Prem with Chelsea before blossoming at Manchester City.

And Zaha, whose in-form team host Burnley today, said: “There was a point I was thinking, ‘If I do not buck up, I could let this slip’.

“Before you know it, I could have been in League One.

“I knew that what happened at United should not define me as a person or player.

“It was about having a strong mentality and working hard. I’m at an age where I feel I have to start fulfilling my potential.

Wilfried Zaha has been unable to stem the tide at Crystal Palace this year

PA:Press Association
Wilfried Zaha admitted he had to start again to build a reputation after leaving Old Trafford

“People said I was not ready for my big move — but I didn’t get the opportunity and was just branded a flop.

“I had to start again. I’m doing it for myself and also to show I’m a good player.

“Luckily, Palace have had love for me from the beginning. It is the team I could fall back on. I got settled there again and have kicked on ever since.

“It did hurt, the criticism. I had to be mentally strong.

“If I did not have the mental strength, I would not have recovered from all the fans’ taunts during games and on social media. I had to believe in myself. And I had to have a team and manager that allows me to play — that is what has happened now.

“Players can come back stronger. Look at De Bruyne.

“Jose Mourinho got rid of him at Chelsea, he joined Wolfsburg, came to City and is now one of the best players in the Prem.

“Sometimes, the easiest route is not the best route. You come back stronger.

“Look at Romelu Lukaku. He has scored the most goals in the league, even though some doubted him. He has proved everyone wrong.

Kevin De Bruyne is another who was let go and he now plays for Manchester City

Wilfried Zaha admitted he took inspiration from Kevin De Bruyne

“I am trying to go down that path myself, proving every doubter wrong.”

Zaha has kept up his good performances for new boss Sam Allardyce despite Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Spurs — a club who have been linked with a move for him.

As Zaha tore past some of Tottenham’s players, the home fans once again chanted: “He’s just too good for you.”

Zaha said: “It’s a nice feeling when they sing that and it shows their love for me.

“When I play for Palace, I give everything. No matter what, they have backed me.

“It was a shame we lost to Spurs but they have players such as Christian Eriksen who can change a game. Hopefully we’ll respond against Burnley.”

Even Wilfried Zaha is impressed by the quality of the Christian Benteke goal

Rex Features
Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke are leading Palace’s Premier League survival bid

As for working hard on his game, he added: “My fitness has always been decent.

“I run constantly. That was never the problem. The issue was what I did with the ball — the end product.

I worked on that. I was going so fast and trying to do so many things at the same time, things were not coming off.

“So I tried to slow down. I had to work on crosses, too.

“I now have time to look up and see if I should go again or pick up a pass.”

With four games to go, Palace are just two points shy of the magical 40-point mark as they battle to stay up.

Wilfried Zaha has been in fine form for Crystal Palace this season

Rex Features
Wilfried Zaha is set to be crowned Palace’s Player of the Season

And Zaha smiles when he is asked about the final game of the season. On May 21, Palace travel to Manchester United.

He said: “I don’t feel any bitterness towards them.

“I used to be annoyed about it. But I did not play much and it was difficult being away from home for the first time.

“I remember Christmas 2013. I hoped David Moyes would let me go to London with family as I wasn’t playing, but he refused.

“I spent Christmas Eve on my own. I didn’t even have dinner.

Mauricio Pochettino is eyeing a summer move for Wilfried Zaha

Mauricio Pochettino is eyeing a summer move for Wilfried Zaha

“Dougie Freedman, who lives around Manchester, invited me to spend Christmas Day with his family. Then on Boxing Day, I travelled to Hull to sit in the stands.”

Now Zaha will wait until the summer to look at his future.

He added: “I need to keep getting goals and assists. I will decide what to do next. For now, my performances are all that is on my mind.

“But I will learn from the past.”