Zaki: All he’s cracked up to be?

I stand ready to be proven wrong in a few months on the subject of this post, but for now I hope you’ll forgive my cynicism and just enjoy saying “told you so” in a few months, and Wigan fans I’m talking at you in particular. I must say that I find the huge hype surrounding Amr Zaki already, after eight games of the season, a little bit ridiculous.

There have been many players who have made flying starts to premiership seasons before, and many that have begun in awful form but ended up being one of the players of the season. Of course, our opinion of players’ performances are by necessity subjective and so you are welcome to disagree, but I must admit that I haven’t seen anything from the big Egyptian that yet merits the huge amount of attention he is already receiving.

That is not to say he hasn’t played well, there’s no doubting that he has been in fine form for Wigan so far this term, with his goal this weekend sure to be amongst the contenders for goal of the season when May rolls round. Other than his obvious spectacular exploits though, Zaki seems to me to be simply a rather good target man, who can play on the floor a bit too. And this isn’t a commodity that the Premiership is really lacking, with Blackburn’s Roque Santa Cruz, West Ham’s Dean Ashton, Pompey’s Peter Crouch, and indeed Zaki’s current team mate Emile Heskey being prime examples, and even players like Fernando Torres and Emanuel Adebayor could be included, though they are famed more for their technical abilities.

What I find slightly strange then, is the significant hype that is already escalating over what the press envisages as being a battle for his signature, come the end of the season and the end of his loan contract with Wigan. I don’t doubt that he is a quality player, but why is there so much fuss all of a sudden over him, when I don’t think he is all that special a player, compared to some who already ply their trade around Europe and the Premiership.

There is no doubting that much of it will be little more that paper talk and press speculation, but already there seems to be very serious debate over where he will end up, with Liverpool reckoned to be the leading club in contention, as they surely will have the financial muscle and draw of European football to outmanoeuvre Wigan.

But would Zaki really be a good acquisition for Liverpool? I have to admit that my allegiance doesn’t help, but I have never really had any faith in Rafa Benitez’s ability to build a cohesive squad. To me his transfer policy seems to be very much to sign anyone who there is a bit of fuss about and throw them into his team. I think this is backed up by the relatively unsuccessful spell of Crouch at Liverpool, when he has been very effective at all of his other clubs, and indeed, by Liverpool’s colossal spending over the last few years having not yet delivered domestic success.

I think the brilliant thing about Zaki at the moment, is that Steve Bruce is playing him in his best position, something that Benitez often doesn’t do. Also, Zaki fits Wigan’s style of play perfectly. While I’m sure every Wigan fan would love to see them playing glorious football of the sort that regularly graces the Emirates, but realistically, most will accept that in order to really compete, Wigan are best playing a certain way, with a definite physical element to their side.

Unfortunately for Wigan though, I am equally sure that come next season, they will have pulled off a minor miracle if Zaki is still plying his trade at the JJB – either that, or Zaki will have undergone an immense drop in form and everyone will think he had an extended spell of beginner’s luck, but that isn’t the best scenario for Wigan fans either. No, I think that when it comes down to it, Zaki, like many players before him will be lured to a ‘bigger club’ by the promise of more money and ‘better football’ but will ultimately suffer for it, unless the club that signs him is genuinely willing to accommodate him.

I think that if Zaki has his head screwed on, and wants to be remembered in English football as the great player that some are suggesting he is shaping up to be, he must stay at Wigan, at least for another few seasons. Wigan suit his style of play and will let him get goals, and importantly, regular football. If he is at Liverpool next season, he will spend a lot of time on the bench, watching on as Torres and Gerrard continue to write their names in the history books and go down as greats.

What he needs to realise is that great players don’t just play at successful clubs. Many times in the past have brilliant players made a career at certain clubs, Dixie Dean did it at Everton and in more recent years Georgi Kinkladze did it at Manchester City, and Alan Shearer did it at Newcastle. It all depends on his motivation, whether he wants to be a great player or earn a great fortune will ultimately decide on whether Zaki is all he is currently being cracked up to be.

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