Hull City’s loan deal for supposed ‘bad boy’ Amr Zaki (or should that be Zaky, as his official website calls him?) has certainly ruffled some pundits and opposition fans.
Here’s an example of the mainstream opinion, courtesy of Lou Macari’s column in the Stoke Sentinel newspaper: “Amr Zaki, who disgraced himself by going AWOL at Wigan last season, reckons he can persuade some mug to take him back into the Premier League for another extortionate pay day. And he reckoned right, thanks to Hull City.”
Or how about this foaming-mouthed contribution from blogger Jason Mellor on Fanhouse: “Desperate times call for desperate measures, but surely Hull City aren’t that desperate?… Self-centred players such as Zaki bring absolutely nothing to the table…”
Blimey, that’s some spleen being vented there. So what exactly has evil Amr done to provoke such a reaction? Well, he was late returning to Wigan Athletic from international duty with Egypt. Four times. And… er, that’s it.
Let me first be clear. To be tardy in coming back from international duty is bad form once, and pretty inexcusable four times. However, Zaki is hardly alone in doing so – off the top of my head I can think of Madjid Bougherra (twice) and Roque Santa Cruz, while no doubt a Google search would offer up dozens more names. Robinho even sneaked out of a training camp to celebrate his birthday in Brazil. You could say it’s a common concern for managers in signing foreign players.
So which pundits and bloggers are forming a torch-wielding vigilante mob to drive ‘disgraces’ like Santa Cruz and Robinho out of Britain? None. So how many times is it acceptable to them to go AWOL after international duty?
Anyway, Zaki is out of the international picture at the moment, so he won’t have the chance to accidentally-on-purpose miss his flight and stay at home with friends and family for a few more days. Even if he is called up, Egypt only have one international lined up during his Hull City loan spell, and that’s against England at Wembley. So there’s no reason for him to fly back to Egypt for a game at all and no reason to stay on too long afterwards.
Importantly, the Zaki of early 2010 is a fundamentally different character to the one of 12 months ago. Then he was topping the Premier League scoring charts with 11 goals before the turn of the year, officially ranked by Fifa as the world’s best striker with 29 goals in 48 internationals, and being linked with eight-figure transfers to the most glamorous clubs. It’s not too difficult to imagine how that would inflate someone’s ego and make them think they can get away with bending club rules.
Now he returns a chastened character, written off by all and sundry and with a last chance to prove himself in the Premier League. Mess it up and he’ll almost certainly be one of those misfit players that bums around countries like Qatar, China and Kazakhstan, maintaining his big salary but with no challenge or profile.
I don’t think he wants to see the last decade of his career to dribble away like that. I believe he’s determined to show he’s got the goals still in him, and in so doing to fire Hull City to safety. He’s started well, talking a good game in the Hull Daily Mail (‘There have been many things written about me in the past. I want to prove that I am a good player but also a good man’) and moving his family to Anlaby within days of signing. Many players would see out a five-month deal staying in a hotel.
Finally, a word about Zaki’s biggest critic – his former Wigan manager Steve Bruce. From declaring he’d made a massive mistake in only signing him on loan instead of permanently, Brucey changed his tune and declared him ‘the most unprofessional player he’d ever worked with’.
Wasn’t that a bit OTT when at the very same time Bruce had a certain Marlon King on his roster? Surely missing a few flights can’t possibly be viewed by anyone as more unprofessional than being jailed for sexual assault?
I’ve just typed 700 words justifying why Zaki will be a masterstroke signing for City, but I should have just posted this link to a video showing his 10 league goals for Wigan. Poaches, penalties, scissor kicks, half volleys – this guy knows how to score.