Mercurial Zarate Is Not a Risk West Ham Should Take

Jerrad PetersWorld Football Staff WriterMay 22, 2014

Argentina's Velez Sarsfield's Mauro Zarate reacts after missing a chance to score against Colombia's La Equidad during a Copa Sudamericana soccer match in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Eduardo Di Baia)
Eduardo Di Baia/Associated Press

West Ham are so keen on Mauro Zarate they requested he sit out his club Velez Sarsfield’s final match of Argentina’s Torneo Final on Monday.

“They asked him not to play against San Lorenzo, but he wanted to play,” revealed Rolando—Zarate’s brother and agent—as per The Independent.

He added: “Mauro Zarate and his family’s love for Velez is huge, but the club [will] receive good financial compensation.”

The precise terms of the 27-year-old’s move to Upton Park have yet to be disclosed, but Sky Sports has reported the transaction is imminent, with the former Birmingham City, Lazio and Inter Milan attacker set to arrive in London within the week.

As for that San Lorenzo contest, Zarate played 81 minutes and scored twice before being substituted as Velez Sarsfield triumphed 3-2, sealing qualification for the group stage of the 2015 Copa Libertadores.

The brace also took him to a league-leading 13 goals on the campaign—four better than second-place Guido Carrillo of Estudiantes.

No doubt Zarate will be expected to provide similar offense at West Ham, especially as he has become the centrepiece of the Premier League outfit’s entertainment revolution.

Despite guiding the Hammers to a respectable 13th-place finish in 2013-14, manager Sam Allardyce found himself the subject of increasing criticism as the season progressed and many fans demanded a more eye-catching brand of football.

Their frustrations peaked during a 1-0 loss to West Bromwich Albion in April, where a banner reading “Fat Sam out, killing WHU” underlined the distaste with which a section of the club’s support viewed the product on the field.

West Ham’s board seemed to share their concerns, albeit rather more subtly, and it was only on Tuesday that they confirmed Allardyce would be returning as manager next season.

West Ham manager Sam Allardyce is under pressure to deliver entertaining football next season.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce is under pressure to deliver entertaining football next season.Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The vote of confidence, however, came with a caveat.

“After listening to feedback from supporters,” read a statement posted on the club’s official website, “the board have insisted on improvements to the set-up of the playing and backroom staff to ensure the team provides more entertainment next season.”

The statement also divulged that the board would have “greater involvement” in player acquisitions, and it’s likely the pursuit of Zarate began in its chambers.

Because in no way is the Argentinian an Allardyce player, and in no way does he fit the template of cautious, hard-nosed football—high in crosses and low in creativity—currently used at the Boleyn Ground.

A support attacker who can also operate as a lone striker and left-sided forward, the 5'9" Zarate generates goalscoring opportunities with equal parts speed and skill—dribbling at pace and shooting from distance with either foot.

But he is wildly inconsistent—a mercurial talent—and has a history of clashing with club executives and indiscipline. A four-year stint in Italy ended after a total breakdown in his relationship with Lazio, and it was only after a return to Argentina with Velez Sarsfield that he rediscovered some form.

Robinho was reborn as Santos during a 2010 loan spell.
Robinho was reborn as Santos during a 2010 loan spell.Nelson Antoine/Associated Press

In that, Zarate’s story is similar to Robinho’s, as the former Manchester City forward departed Eastlands on poor terms before playing some of the best football of his career while on loan at Santos in 2010.

But a move back to Europe with AC Milan saw the Brazilian become a mere shadow of the player he had been (however briefly) in his homeland, and he has never been the same.

Robinho was 26 at the time—about the same age Zarate is now. And yet, West Ham seem willing, even desperate, to take the risk.

It’s not one worth taking.

Yes, Zarate is a player of considerable ability, but his recent exploits have come at his boyhood club, and only after his European career went pear-shaped. Should he complete the move, it’s likely only one of he and Allardyce will still be attached to West Ham by mid-season.

Then again, that might be what the board had in mind all along.