He that has light within his own clear breast May sit in the centre, and enjoy bright day: But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts Benighted walks under the mid-day sun; Himself his own dungeon...Fans of the Premier League, cast your minds back to April 12th, 2008. It was the day that Mauro Zárate truly caught the attention of English fans, following up goals the previous month against Reading and Manchester City, with a sumptuous free kick to equalise late on against Everton for relegation threatened Birmingham. Zárate’s brief cameo in England’s second city was just one of several unusual stops in what has been an intriguing, frustrating and often perplexing career, wrote World Soccer's Adam Durack.
Having started life in Haedo, in his native Argentina, Zárate was always destined to be a footballer, coming from a moderately wealthy family with real sporting heritage. His grandfather Juvenal was a Chilean international footballer. His father turned out for both Independiente and Ancona Calcio; while at the latter meeting future Italian wife Catalina. His three older brothers, Ariel, Sergio and Rolando played for Malaga, Nuremburg and Real Madrid respectively during various points in their careers. It was no surprise then when young Mauro showed an aptitude for the family trade at an early age, quickly outgrowing the age groups at Velez Sarsfield to make his debut for the first team at just 17. It was a club for which his brother had made well over 100 appearances and scored 50 goals. If Zárate felt the burden of expectation, he did not show it. He played a part-time role in Velez’ capture of the 2005 Clausura as a teenager, before hitting 19 goals to share the title of top goal scorer for the Apertura with now Inter striker Rodrigo Palacio in the 2006-7 season, his first as regular starter for Velez, and also his last for the club before moving abroad. In the same year in which he was making headlines domestically for his goal scoring form, he earned global recognition, winning the FIFA under-20 World Cup with Argentina in Canada. It was team-mate Sergio Agüero who stole the limelight, earning both the competition’s Golden Ball and Golden Shoe awards for best player and top scorer, as well as a place in the All-Star team. Nevertheless, Zárate stood out at the tournament in and amongst future world stars including Arturo Vidal, Angel Di Maria and Gerard Piqué as a talented young forward, notching a goal in the final against the Czech Republic. Zárate’s future seemed well laid out for him, an oft trodden path taken by Argentinian players of shining domestically before jetting off to the big lights of Europe.
It was at this point that Zárate’s career took one of several unusual terms. The in-demand forward ignored advances from European sides, and the option to continue to forge a reputation at home, in order to make the move to Al-Sadd of Doha, Qatar. This initially puzzling move is perhaps explained by the careers of his brothers, in particular Sergio. Although Rolando had a brief spell at Madrid, none of the Zárate brothers ever made it at a huge club. With Sergio acting as his agent, the move to Al-Sadd came with a reported fee of around £13 million and a lucrative contract, setting Mauro up financially. This Middle Eastern sojourn was to be short lived however, with Zárate making only 6 appearances for Al-Sadd, in which he still managed 4 goals. Within six months Zarate would finally find himself heading to Europe. "I knew the chance to come was very important and, after speaking to Al-Sadd a few times and pushing them for a loan move, they agreed to let me go and here is the result," he told the Daily Mail upon his arrival in England. "Birmingham were the first to come in for me and the ones that pushed the hardest to get me out of there. I am very happy with my choice as I am a big fan of the English game."
Unusually then, Zárate made his debut in Europe in a defeat to Sunderland for a desperately struggling Birmingham. Not the most exotic locations for a silky skilled, fleet footed Argentine attacker to announce himself. Despite this though, and even though Zárate was unable to fire Birmingham to safety, a handful of impressive goals in just over a dozen appearances left him with no shortage of suitors. Having just turned 21 at the time and initially looking lightweight when first introduced to the helter-skelter of English football via the substitutes' bench, Zárate quickly grew in confidence to offer a touch of the unexpected to a workmanlike team. "He's one of those guys that are comfortable with a ball and caressing a ball," enthused then manager Alex McLeish. "I don't want to compare him to the Argentinian greats but he is of that mould. He has great balance and mobility. He can play anywhere along the front four. More importantly he's somebody that we think can create something out of nothing." His first Blues goal came in yet another defeat against Reading, which he followed up with an excellent brace in a 3-1 win at home to Manchester City; the first with his left foot, a delicate chip past Joe Hart, and the second drilled with his right foot low into the far bottom corner. "I don't know if he is a left-footer or a right-footer," teammate Franck Queudrue admitted at the time. "In training sessions he uses both feet. If we don't know which is his best foot, maybe the opposition don't either." That 1-1 draw against Everton in the middle of a barren April for the Blues saw Zárate score his fourth and final goal for the Blues, finishing with 14 appearances, with 8 as a substitute. "I am sure performances like that will make it very difficult for us to hang on to him, but I hope he has a future in the Premier League because he loves his football and he's a great kid," admitted McLeish. "He will be a good asset to one of the big clubs. It's just a shame that our situation counted against us." Predictably Blues’ relegation from the Premiership saw any hopes of a permanent transfer vanish, and it turned out to be a case of ‘what if?’, as David Sullivan announced that a deal had been in place to bring Zárate in on a long-term basis, on the condition of surviving relegation.
Facing a reluctant return to the Middle East, the ‘El Pibe de Haedo's’ next step was instead to a more suitable stage for his abilities, the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, the Eternal City. Although still a rather unknown quantity when he arrived at Lazio, Zárate wasted little time in showing his desire to take centre stage with the Biancocelesti. On an initial loan, Zárate immediately set about impressing, leading owner Claudio Lotito to label him "better than Messi" and endearing himself to the fans with two goals on his debut away to Cagliari before notching a breathtaking goal in his first home game. Writing in La Repubblica, Giulio Cardone recalled: "Zárate instantly showed what he has, in a debut which finished 4-1 to Lazio at the Sant’Elia – blazing dribbling, a powerful shot, ice cold. That, ice cold, temperament which allowed him to score the equalising penalty. The real feat came later, lobbing with his left – the boy is ambidextrous – a desperately onrushing Marchetti, with the slimmest margins of success." With superior acceleration, dribbling ability and a powerful shot from either foot, observed Paolo Bandini, he possessed not only the flair to fire fans’ imaginations but also the ruthlessness to ensure his fancy footwork didn’t go to waste. Zárate found the net six times in the opening five weeks; a spectacular beginning gifting Lazio their best start to a Serie A campaign for a decade, and earning 'The Zárate Kid' instant legendary status amongst the Curva Nord faithful. His finest moment came on April 11th when Lazio hosted arch rivals Roma in the Derby della Capitale. With Rome’s other no. 10 declaring Zárate was not a true champion in the days preceding the encounter, 'Maurito' responded in stylish fashion scoring a wonder strike just four minutes into the game stunning Roma and silencing the doubters. With Lazio reaching the final of the Coppa Italia just a month later Zárate yet again took centre stage and scored an almost carbon copy of his derby wonder strike. With the game billed as a showdown between himself and Cassano, the Argentinian had once again proved he could stand up when it counted showing the makings of a true champion. As Lazio lifted their first piece of silverware since the glory days of the Cragnotti era, a genuine love affair bloomed between Zárate and the Lazio ultras. On the field he continued to delight with his skilful play and eye for goal, finishing the season with 16 in all competitions; off it he mocked hated rival Totti ("He speaks too much and forgets that he is already finished - he has not scored for 10 derbies!"), and even watched matches he wasn’t involved in with the fans, a practice that would result in much controversy in 2010. Serving a two-match ban for insulting a referee during a game against Sampdoria, Zárate was pictured among the avid and notoriously pro-fascist sections of home support making a Nazi salute, an incident for which he would preposterously claim ignorance of who Hitler or Mussolini were and that he "did not realise the significance of his gesture".
An indiscretion attributed to the vagaries of youth, similar allowances were made for Zárate's on field tendency towards profligate indulgence. "There is nothing so bold as a blind mare," cooed Lotito as by Christmas his charge was named one of the wonders of the Serie A season so far by Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Has a star been born?" asked Cardone with some reservation, before concluding: "It’s too soon to say, but he seems far too in love with the ball." As befits the virtuoso, Zárate only truly flourished through the subservience of the collective. Writing in Football Italiano, David Swan observed: "When Zárate first joined Lazio he was under the guidance of Delio Rossi, who had a lot of trust in him. He was used as the reference point of the attack, the go-to guy, and everyone else played around him. The 4-3-1-2/4-3-2-1 Rossi primarily used is ideal to this end, but it still took courage to make a guy the focal point of the attack when his only experience of football in Europe was 14 games with Birmingham City." Even more so when you consider Rossi also had Goran Pandev at his disposal, who had just finished his best ever season in club football in terms of performances. True or not, his performances on loan were enough to convince Lotito to stump up approximately £17 million for Zárate to buy out his contract, an arrangement that would later surface as yet another of many controversies that plagued his career. With the buying out of his contract in Doha it seemed that a bright future was all but assured. There were even rumours in the Corriere dello Sport that if Argentina continued to ignore Zárate, Marcello Lippi would make the striker the latest 'Oriundi' to switch to Italy after Mauro Camoranesi and Amauri.
The good times at Lazio wouldn't last for Zárate. For all of the positives, he had noticeably faded in his first season, revealing the selfishness to his game that although not an issue when he was firing, became problematic when he was off his game. Unfortunately, it was this Zárate and not the one that had made such a good first impression that returned to preseason the following year. Lazio had changed managers over the summer, Delio Rossi replaced by the less indulgent Davide Ballardini, and with Zárate struggling to replicate his previous season’s form he was criticised by the manager for his selfishness in possession; a trait that has seen Zárate chastised by coaches since his days as a youth player. On one infamous occasion with the Vélez Sarsfield youth team, Zárate’s coach is said to have left him on the bench as a punishment for not passing more. Upon being introduced as a second-half substitute, the player won possession deep in his own half and ran the length of the pitch, beating several opponents before rounding the goalkeeper. He then stopped the ball on the goal-line, and left it there, running back towards midfield. As he did, he shouted over to his coach: "Now you put it in!" Zárate’s pivotal role had also changed. "He was not always the focal point of the attack, especially when partnered with Julio Cruz, and this was confirmed with the arrival of Sergio Floccari in January 2010," noted Swan. "Performances started to dip, and the constant moving of the player to facilitate a return to the highs of 2008/09 began." Indeed there is a direct correlation between the inconsistency of Zárate's performances and the inconsistency of his tactical deployment. Successive coaches, argues Swan, have experienced real difficulty in finding a position best suited to harness the Argentine’s undoubted talent. He played on the left, on the right, as a 'seconda punta' and as the main man in attack.
With Lazio fighting at the wrong end of the Serie A table and Zárate struggling for form in a season in which he only notched 3 goals in the league, things finally came to a head in January. Zárate had returned to Argentina early before the official Serie A winter break without permission in December. Ballardini was outraged and made his feelings known to the press: "He is a great player if he is in the game. As for quality, he remains one of those players who can invent something in any given moment. But management is not only about teaching technique. It also means education, respect for your team-mates, professionalism. This is what I am talking about. There is an attitude that bothers me a lot. You can make mistakes but you also have to reflect on your errors. I look at attitude. This behaviour is not right towards his team-mates, those people with whom he trains, but also the fans who like to see Zárate. Mauro is an extraordinary player. The argument is regards his attitude. He could be much more useful to the team." Unapologetic, the reaction from the Zárate camp was for his brother Sergio to demand that Ballardini be given the sack, or else Lazio would face losing Mauro: "Lotito will have to decide who goes". Lotito stuck by his big money, mercurial forward and Ballardini was relieved of his duties on February 10th, 2010.
Unfortunately for Lazio and Lotito, Zárate didn’t get on much better with Ballardini’s replacement. He finished the season with just three league goals in 32 games, and was later chastised by new manager, Edy Reja, after showing up the following preseason training 5kg heavier than his usual playing weight. The forward scored nine goals in 2011-12 but even his sublime moments appeared increasingly isolated in a sea of anonymous performances. "He [Zárate] is always convinced he can get past his man, but football is a game played by 11, not on your own," complained Reja. "I’ve been here for a year now, as soon as I saw him play, I saw how he trained and I kept him to one side, depending on Rocchi and Floccari and we achieved safety." Accusations of selfishness when playing up-front appear to have influenced the frequency with which Reja started him in a game with a strike partner – only twice in 2011 did this happened. The rest of Zárate’s year was spent out wide, or on the bench, and it was the benching that was most indicative of the Coach’s frustration. "The supposed selfishness is not a tremendous attribute for a wide player or a seconda punta, and it is difficult to get round that unwanted addition to the team through anything other than keeping him away from the starting XI, which became an increasing occurrence," observed Swan. When he did play, the outspoken Sergio had problems with the style his brother was asked to adopt. Against Palermo, following defeat in the derby, Zárate was tasked with tracking back on the right hand flank in order to assist Lionel Scaloni. Enter Sergio... "They’re destroying my brother … he’s not a full back. I hope to see him attacking." Problems arose again when Zárate arrived an hour late to training for a match against Catania, claiming he had misread the meeting time. Reja spared no quarter, and put him on the bench as a punishment. Except that the lesson he was trying to teach Zárate by excluding him from the game didn’t quite go to plan. Just thirteen minutes in Giuseppe Sculli was injured and Reja turned to the bench, with what must have been disgruntlement, and called Zárate into the fray. What followed, was a determined performance from a young man who looked like he was playing for the team. He provided two assists, in positions where he may have ordinarily chosen to shoot himself, and topped his performance off with a goal direct from a 25 yard free kick into the bottom left corner of Andujar’s goal. After the game Reja joked: "I liked the way he came into the game [attitude off the bench]. Perhaps I’ll start him from the bench in Milan against Inter as well."
The problem for Lazio is that these decisive performances had been few and far between, and his fate at the club appeared to remain constantly in the balance. Earlier in 2010, Zárate had cost Lazio and Lotito yet more money. Lazio were ordered to pay solidarity payment to Velez Sarsfield, fees that the club believed they had avoided by giving Zárate the money to buy out his contract at Al-Sadd rather than pay the club a transfer fee. Zárate had always been a luxury item, but now he was an under-performing luxury with dramatically declining economic worth. When Zárate’s deal was made permanent in 2009 the newspaper La Repubblica had confidently predicted that: "Lotito is assured a profit if he ever sells the player, given that his fee is sure to be over €30m." Now he would be prepared to accept half that amount as Zárate’s reputation as a troublemaker preceded him and potential suitors balked at Lazio’s valuation. Eventually a loan move to Inter was arranged with the option for a permanent transfer. The Nerazzurri paid €2.6m for a season-long loan, with an option to buy for €16m at the end of the campaign. "It came about as a result of a phone call with Lotito," revealed Inter President Massimo Moratti. "I got the impression that with a few negotiations we would be able to find a solution allowing us to take him on loan and then weigh up whether to buy him outright. He’s a lovely lad, I met him today. He’s overjoyed to have the chance to come to Inter and now everything is in the hands of the coach." At the time it seemed like a good deal for all parties, offering the player a chance to revive his career, Lazio the possibility of recouping most of his initial transfer fee and Inter a wide forward who could operate in new manager Gian Piero Gasperini’s 3-4-3. Once again, however, Zárate fell short of expectations. Despite being offered a €15,000 assist bonus by Inter— a ruse to counter-act his perceived selfishness— he finished the campaign with just three appearances in all competitions, as well as three goals. The Nerazzurri did not take up their option, and Zarate returned to Lazio. "It all went wrong," Zárate explained. "It was not a good season and not just for me. Except for Diego Milito who scored a ton of goals, almost all of us were below par, below what we are capable of. Three different coaches, a strange season, but it is over and you have to start again. Now I want to go play and have fun."
The whole episode might be seen as a metaphor for the player’s frustrating career. Zárate could argue that he was scuppered by events beyond his control – Inter sacking Gasperini after just five games. Others, however, would point out that the player did little to fight perceptions that he simply didn’t care enough about his work. Zárate developed a reputation for loving the nightlife in Milan, and was caught partying in a nightclub just hours after Inter’s defeat to Udinese. But where Zárate could get away with such an egotistical approach in youth football, the harsh reality is that he can’t at this level. He is a good player, notes Bandini, one whose technique and close control are well above average even for Serie A. But he is not the phenomenon that he was once made out to be. He is no Messi, nor even— to cite a player known to adopt a similarly selfish approach at times— an Arjen Robben. Writing in his Calcio Considered blog, Rob Paton offered a fascinating insight into the Zárate conundrum as seen through the prism of Inter's victory against Cagliari in November 2011. With Inter in search of just their second home win of the Serie A season, Claudio Ranieri took a risk at half-time. Having already lost Wesley Sneijder in the pre-match warm-up, the coach removed the side’s most active player from the first half – Mauro Zárate – and replaced him with Ricky Alvarez. "The Lazio-owned Argentine’s 45 minutes were involved, as in Sneijder’s absence he took on a roving attacking role, but four shots – twice as many as any other teammate – matched with a 57 per cent pass completion – 30 per cent lower than any other teammate – perhaps highlights where his focus on proceedings was," revealed Paton. "On more than one occasion did the Argentine pick up possession in one of the channels only to cut inside and attempt either a lobbed pass or, more commonly, a shot from outside the penalty area. Match reports also recorded his tendency to block teammate Philippe Coutinho for space." Statistically, notes Paton, no-one contributed more to the team’s attacking in the first half than Zárate and he was within inches of opening the scoring from a free-kick. However, as many of the post-match pagelle marks highlight, his performance was interpreted negatively, as trying to win the game alone – one pundit described it as 'more heat than light for his team'. Indeed, tactically, Zárate’s continued decision-making saw him generally take three or four touches before releasing the ball and it visibly allowed for Cagliari to often anticipate play and organise themselves to push out of their penalty area, in what proved to be a frustrating first half for the Nerazzurri," he writes. "That replacement Alvarez provided a cross for the first goal and played a quick pass in the build-up to the second did Zárate’s choices on Saturday evening no good. In effect, Alvarez – with the clear and simple directive to target left-back Alessandro Agostini for pace – provided the light that Zárate’s heat could not generate."
That Alvarez’ introduction and Coutinho’s increased influence in the second half came with a formation change to 4-3-3 is perhaps Zárate’s saving grace. It leaves focus as much on Inter’s best formation as it does on individual contributions within that. It was still telling, though, that both Ranieri and President Moratti were vocal in their praise of both Alvarez’ impact and that the team had won by playing as a unit. If Zárate were ever to truly devote himself to the service of his team-mates, argues Bandini, he would certainly have been a valuable asset to Lazio or any other team. Instead, he found himself back on the margins. He and his agents sought to blame Lotito for that fact, but the club’s latest manager, Vladimir Petkovic, painted a rather different picture the following December, when he claimed that the player had "removed himself" from the squad. Unhappy to be sat on the bench, a place he has detested his entire career, Zárate allegedly failed to respond to a call-up for Lazio’s game against Inter. Even the supporters who once adored Zárate now turned against him. "Wherever he goes, Mauro will be loved and appreciated by the Lazio fans," blustered one of his agents Luis Ruzzi as the team resumed training after the winter break. Those supporters responded with a banner which read: "The true champion is humble. He goes and collects the balls when training with the reserves. He doesn’t cry on Twitter, and he reduces his wages. He does not cling on to an overly generous contract. Zárate: get lost."
Again Zárate began angling to leave the club, clamouring for a transfer termination. When an international break rolled round in March last year nine Lazio players were called up to represent their countries in friendlies and World Cup qualifiers over the fortnight, but the forward was not among them. Not surprising, noted Bandini, since six years had passed since Zarate’s late strike against the Czech Republic won Argentina the Under-20 World Cup, yet he has still never played for the senior side. Instead Zárate too boarded a plane bound for the far side of the planet but rather than boots and shinpads, he packed swimming trunks and flippers. To celebrate his 26th birthday, the player had decided to indulge in a mid-season mini-break to the Maldives. Lazio had not granted him permission to do so. Indeed, Zárate had never asked. Instead he simply presented club officials with a sick note from his doctor which stated that he needed a few days off training to recover from a skin condition caused by "fatigue". The cynics wondered what could possibly have brought on such a state. Zárate had been training apart from the first-team for months, and by most accounts not over-exerting himself. Either way, he was granted the time off and swiftly set out on his secret sojourn. He might have got away with it, too, if it weren’t for the fact that there happened to be a Lazio supporter on holiday at the very same resort. That fan put in a phone call to Rome’s Radio Sei, informing listeners that he had just seen the player snorkeling in the Indian Ocean. Zárate returned to training on 22 March amid reports that the club would impose a fine as great as €400,000. As the club compiled their evidence against the player, Zárate upped the ante himself, initiating legal action to have his contract with Lazio terminated. Zárate’s agent, Ruzzi, telling reporters that he had assembled "many documents" to support their case. He argued that Zárate had been frozen out of training by Lazio and also denied the opportunity to leave the club, two acts that would effectively constitute a restraint of trade.
Lazio have been here before. In 2009 Zárate’s then colleague Pandev announced his desire to leave Lazio and was consequently frozen out of the club by Lotito. Pandev had his contract rescinded after being forced to train apart from the rest of the team for several months. The player had sought a move away in the previous transfer window and successfully argued that the club was denying him the right to play as a punishment for those actions. Lazio eventually had to pay the Macedonian for emotional distress. Pandev then of course went on to win the treble with José Mourinho’s Inter. Fast forward three years and Zárate was thought to have been on his way to Dynamo Kiev the previous month (Ukraine’s transfer window does not close until the end of February) but the move eventually fell through. Zárate has accused Lazio’s owner of raising the transfer fee after a deal had already been agreed. Others have claimed that it was Zárate’s demand for a release clause in his contract which scuppered the move. Whether Lotito does unfairly treat his players, or just has a penchant for signing troublemakers is up for debate. "However, in the case of Zárate, it is certainly feasible given the players track record for misbehaving that he played a role in the collapsed deal with Dinamo Kiev," argues Durack.
Last July, Zárate finally got his way, ignoring overtures from Sunderland and Tottenham to sign for former club Velez Sarsfield. Earlier that month, he had taken to Twitter to declare: "From now on I’m free, finally I can go and play elsewhere". Interviewed by Argentinian newspaper Olé on his return, Zarate stated: "After I returned to Lazio from Inter I was frozen out by President Lotito and his gang which consisted of the Sporting Director, the coach and 2-3 players. I have never seen anything like this before but this President does these kind of things." Although the legal wranglings surrounding his contract with Lazio persisted, Zárate quickly rediscovered his form on native soil. Replacing both Fernando Gago as the big name in the dressing room and last year’s top scorer Facundo Ferreyra, Zárate has not only been the 2014 Torneo Final’s top goal-scorer with 13 goals (also scoring the most goals across the entire season, with 18 strikes to his name), but has also been one of the championship’s top assists contributor as well. "The Velez Sarsfield forward found the time to top both charts even whilst being immersed in his side’s rotation policy so as to keep players fresh for both domestic and Toyota Libertadores Cup duties," declared Football Rants's Daniel Fraiz Martinez. "Zárate has quite simply been exceptional this season, and is the only pick for Player of The Season. His outstanding play, and the range and depth of his influence on both his club, and the domestic competition alike could be somewhat akin to that of Luis Suarez’s contribution this season to the Premier League."
Now there will be the chance for a direct comparison as Zárate finally completed his move to West Ham United, after signing a three-year deal. "This signing is based on his record from being in Argentina, where he has scored the goals that he has scored because we are looking for some goals," Sam Allardyce told the club's official website. "Hopefully he is going to settle in quickly and bring us those sort of options that we need to be more successful in terms of goalscoring next season. We hope that a combination of the fact that he knows the Premier League and now he has become more experienced and more mature, he is going to have evolved in terms of giving us a few more goals in the Premier League when he gets the opportunity. He is a different type of player to what we have already got, which is what we have been looking for for a while. He is small and sharp and quick and has got good feet, so hopefully he can give us another dimension for what we don't have in the squad at the moment." Zárate becomes the fourth Argentine to represent West Ham following Lionel Scaloni, Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez. "This is a new chance for me and I want to play," he stated. "I think I played well for Velez this season and that was important for me. I had some good team-mates and they helped to make it a fantastic season for me. If you ask me what I can bring to the squad then I say I hope I will bring goals! I will also bring dribbling skills and other attacking qualities. West Ham is a very important club and we know all about them and the Premier League in Argentina. This club is a beautiful club. I know English football from my time at Birmingham and I hope I will play well and reach the highest possible level."
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. 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 recently that they confirmed Allardyce would be returning as manager next season. 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 Zárate began in its chambers. "No doubt Zárate will be expected to become the centre-piece of the Premier League outfit’s entertainment revolution," notes Bleacher Report's Jerrad Peters, "but 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" Zárate generates goalscoring opportunities with equal parts speed and skill— dribbling at pace and shooting from distance with either foot. But he is also wildly inconsistent— a mercurial talent— and has a history of clashing with club executives and indiscipline." When Paolo di Canio is describing you as "selfish, not very useful to the team and with little personality" any West Ham fan would be entitled to choke on their jellied eels.
Upon leaving Lazio for Velez, Zárate famously thanked the fans and declared that "I have always given my all to the Lazio shirt." It is a patently untrue statement, argues Durack. "Between weight gain, nights out, on pitch selfishness and constantly resisting ever being a substitute, during his time at Lazio it is obvious Zárate played for himself. Unfortunately for Lotito, Zárate is not better than Messi, and could not afford to show so little disregard towards playing for the team. There is no doubt that on his day, Zárate is a pleasure to watch and if he could just resist that little voice inside his head that tells him to take on just one more man, or shoot rather than pass, he has all the qualities to be a top player." At 27 years old, Zárate should theoretically be at the peak of his powers, and has done well enough last season to deserve another chance in the big leagues. Yet it would be wise for any potential suitors to think long and hard about why it is that Zárate has not yet achieved the success that was anticipated of his career. And ask why things should be any different if they sign him. "Zárate could still have the career that beckoned to him when he was younger," concludes Durack, "but he will need to convince the world that his petulant ways are behind him if he ever wants to be more than just a big fish in a small pond." That Mauro Zarate will bring the heat to East London is a given; we can but hope for all concerned that he will also bring the light.