Will West Ham’s gamble on Mauro Zarate pay off?
West Ham, 6/1 shots with Coral to be relegated from the Premier League in 2014/15, have clearly signalled their intent to attack next term with the capture of Argentine forward Mauro Zarate.
Hammers boss Sam Allardyce, subject of intense criticism for supporters over his perceived lack of style, has had a blunt brief issued for him.
“The club have made clear that they want to see progression on the pitch and at least a top 10 finish as a result,” were the curt instructions handed down from on high by joint-chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan.
Big Sam is also having a new attacking coach imposed upon him by West Ham’s board, and that figure is being brought in to get the best out of new signing Zarate, a former Birmingham City loanee.
His four goals in 14 Premier League appearances as a precocious 21-year-old at St Andrews in 2008 showed how much potential this Argentine had. He even caught the eye of Diego Maradona when the World Cup winner was in charge of the national side.
As is so often the case with young footballers, though, where there was talent, controversy followed. A fascist salute scandal, when given a watching brief at Lazio, saw Zarate emulate Hammers hero Paolo Di Canio in the worst way possible.
He later lied to the Eternal City outfit about needing time off to have treatment on a skin condition. Zarate was instead pictured on holiday with his family.
Within four months of being handed a massive fine in March 2013 for this deceit, he was back in Argentina with boyhood team Velez Sarsfield. Entering his prime – Zarate is now 27 – he got his head down and was domestic top scorer this season.
That was sufficient evidence for West Ham to suggest he has matured enough to hand him a three-year contract at Upton Park. It is the view Allardyce has taken on Zarate anyway.
“He knows the Premier League and now he has become more experienced and more mature,” the Hammers boss said. “He is going to have evolved in terms of giving us a few more goals in the Premier League when he gets the opportunity.”
What the aforementioned off-field controversies raise, though, are doubts over Zarate’s temperament. Although heavily linked with a permanent transfer to newly promoted QPR, maverick midfielder Ravel Morrison could be sharing a dressing room with the Argentine if he opts to return to east London. This pair together has the potential to be combustible.
Tabloid reports also claim that Lyon target man Bateftimbi Gomis, who must seek pastures new as his contract is up with the Ligue 1 otufit, is in the English capital today talking to Premier League suitors. West Ham could be a fine fit for a player in the typical Allardyce frontman mould, but with the added bonus of extra mobility.
What the Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan partnership will make of these arrivals – one for definite and the other potential – is unclear. The Hammers were certainly short in attack when the former was injured, and upon his return he netted just twice.
It could spell the end of the ‘Carroll wins an aerial ball, Nolan goes for the knockdown tactic’, which has been used to such excess that it is now little more than crude. The latter may drop deeper into midfield, so Zarate can be accommodated off the England centre forward.
Gomis would offer a real threat to Carroll’s place should West Ham win the race for his signature. Sunderland and Swansea, both 5/1 to be relegated next season, are also interested, but it is Turkish giants Galatasaray that the Londoners must stave off competition from.
What the Hammers fans with memories of their relegation season will be keen to avoid here is falling into the trap that the previous regime did. The wage bill was high and for that investment there was a limited return from players.
Put simply, Zarate and Gomis will have to perform if they are paired together next term. If they don’t, the future looks bleak for Big Sam, but if it works then Carroll could well be benched.