LONDON • Alan Pardew loudly castigated Wilfried Zaha for not tracking back, suggesting to those in earshot back in September that another manager had reached the conclusion that the Crystal Palace winger could not be trusted.
Zaha did not return after the interval against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane and was dropped for the next league game.
Roll forward to the England international being named the team's player of the year last week and that kind of tough love, mixed with indulgence, appears to have coaxed the best from the 23-year-old.
Along with heaping praise, Pardew has come down harder on Zaha in public than on any other player, knowing that he has considerably more untapped ability.
"Sometimes he still wanders around in training and I have to kick him up the bum or throw something at him," the manager said on Thursday.
Zaha is unlikely to lack focus and discipline as he prepares to face his former club Manchester United in the FA Cup final today. But the forward has also made it clear that he has nothing to prove against the club that made him feel "worthless".
NOTHING TO PROVE
Playing them won't make me run any faster or try any harder. I'll still play the same way I play. Yeah, hopefully I can score against them - and I'll be buzzing if I do - but all I want to do is win the final.
WILFRIED ZAHA, Palace winger, on facing his former club Manchester United in the FA Cup final.
He was Alex Ferguson's final signing but they never spoke after he signed. And he left the club having been discarded by two subsequent managers - David Moyes and Louis van Gaal - without a league start to his name.
"Everyone goes on about Manchester United all the time but they're just another team in the final," he told the British media after Palace booked their place in the Wembley showpiece.
"I don't have anything against United. Playing them won't make me run any faster or try any harder. I'll still play the same way I play. Yeah, hopefully I can score against them - and I'll be buzzing if I do - but all I want to do is win the final."
He already has two goals - winners against Southampton and Stoke - and an assist in five FA Cup games this season.
Ironically, Zaha has the pace and trickery that United fans say their team lack. Only Hatem Ben Arfa, Neymar and Riyad Mahrez have completed more dribbles this season.
Zaha's approach in a game is to run and chase balls over the top to establish the full-back's weaknesses in the first five minutes.
Pardew added on Thursday that he knows "Sir Alex Ferguson still feels he (Zaha) is a United player". And former Palace forward Mark Bright, who faced United in the FA Cup final in 1990, has suggested that some fans are ruing the fact that he no longer is.
"Manchester United fans probably fear him, the ex-player and they know what could be written," he said.
THE TIMES, LONDON