Already established with the seniors, Cadogan elaborates on the youngster’s qualities and how he made his opportunity count: “Stepping up to the youth-team he was confident, and stepping up to the first-team he was the same. You are playing with men, with experience, but he didn’t give a damn. He was himself.
“I don’t think he needed any advice; he just came through and did what he does. I don’t remember him ever asking for much advice on how to play or adapt. And that’s why he has gone so far in the game; he just does what comes natural to him.”
“I used to be there and not say a word,” Zaha remembers. “I used to literally go out and just try to prove that I was good enough to be there, not go out there and muck about because you get hammered instantly if you’re not giving 100%.”
Zaha was at the zenith of his career so far, and yet he was right back where he’d started: unassuming and quiet, keeping himself to himself until he took to a football field. He retained an attitude fine-tuned by tunnel vision and a skillset unmatched even amongst his professional superiors.
Then, on 27th March 2010, it all paid off. After almost 10 years of quietly working in the Palace Academy, Zaha was finally preparing for his professional debut.
Palace were trailing Cardiff City 2-1 at a drizzly Selhurst Park. The No.36 was held up as Stern John trotted from the field. On the sidelines, a 17-year-old Wilfried Zaha waited eagerly, his loose long-sleeved shirt billowing over his shorts; his shorts, in turn, billowing around his knees.
Stepping on to the turf, a smile took over his face. ‘This is all I wanted,’ he thought, before making number one out of 458 Crystal Palace games. ‘This is everything I’ve gone through.
‘This is finally it.’