I admit it. I was fully dazzled by Amr Zaki when he first came to play in England. The stunning goals came so quickly. And they were gorgeous. Wigan Athletic’s unknown striker just needed half a second on the ball to make miracles happen and it seemed like the goals were going to stream from his thirsty feet all season.
In late September Wigan manager Steve Bruce couldn’t bubble forth enough shining praise of Amr Zaki. Awesome. Fantastic. A real future. Fan favourite. Power. Pace. Gives everything he’s got. At the time Zaki was top scorer in the Premier League and there was no sign of the unprofessionalism that would vex Bruce and Wigan later in the season. “I can’t question his attitude,” said Bruce in admiration.
Zaki was one of the most exciting players to come out of last summer’s transfer window. Loaned from Egypt’s El Zamalek for the season, Zaki’s influence was immediate and exceptional. By the end of September, Zaki had scored six goals in eight appearances, helping the Lactics secure three league wins, two draws and a cup win against Notts County. Wigan’s quick eight points put them 10th in the table. A great start for a club that sat just four points from safety at the end of last season.
The inevitable question arose: Could Zaki continue this amazing form throughout the long season? But no one thought to ask: Would Zaki continue showing up to practice throughout the long season?
In April, reports surfaced that Bruce fined Zaki for failing to return on time after international duty. This was the fourth incident of Zaki absenteeism. Bruce said Zaki had already been fined “considerably more than the average person in Britain earns in a year.”
His unprofessionalism has seen him fail to meet anything close to the potential he showed early on. He’s been a player with a foot out the door since midyear, and while Steve Bruce may have been cursing himself in the early winter for not buying Zaki outright, he is now ready to help the 26-year-old pack his bags.
Bruce complained Zaki has been distracted by supposed interest from other clubs like Real Madrid. This was the cause in the change in the player. Wigan was just to small for him. He was ready to move on.
But shouldn’t this interest have sparked Zaki’s form rather than cause him to switch it off? Shouldn’t the prospect of playing for a larger club have been a call for Zaki to step up the professionalism rather than abandon it?
His agent claims that Zaki has offers from four other Premier League clubs, so maybe the mid-season sulking hasn’t jeapordized his ambitions. But the sad display should be a warning to prospective clubs.
Any club that goes for him risks all the primadonna baggage that he can bring. If he goes to a bigger club, what happens when he’s benched for the star strikers already there? He’s not going to start over proven talents like Torres, Anelka, or Rooney. If he goes to a top four club, he’ll have to compete for spots with established strikers who have been plying their trade successfully for the best teams in England. If Zaki’s late season antics are an indicator, I can see him reacting childishly to any significant amount of time spent on the bench. Remember Craig Bellamy at Liverpool? The pouting. The dirty looks when subbed off. I don’t see Zaki breaking out the golf clubs, but the point is professionalism. It’s one thing to be a proven goalscorer. It’s another thing to be a part of a team. Zaki doesn’t seem to have that second, all-important part down.
If he doesn’t grow up, he’s not going to make it at a bigger club. There’s no room for such childishness at the top.