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Pablo Zabaleta: playing the West Ham way

Filed: Friday, 21st September 2018
By: Joe Dear

As West Ham fans, we often suffer results that keep our expectations in check.

We are well accustomed to an optimistic summer full of new signings where expectations rise, only for them to be dashed and for our hopes to be brought back down to reality within a couple of weeks.

But there is one thing that we are well in our right to expect at West Ham – every player giving 100 per cent effort every game. Unfortunately in years gone by this has not always been the case. From Benni McCarthy to Ravel Morrison, Calleri to Carroll, like most Premier League clubs we have had our fair share of players with a more than questionable attitude.

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It would be fair to say that the signing of Pablo Zabaleta in the summer of 2017 on a free transfer from Manchester City didn’t get pulses racing at the London Stadium. At the age of 32 and coming off the back of a season at Man City where he struggled to make the starting XI, it is understandable that not much was expected of the Argentinian.

Initially these doubts rang true. Zabaleta struggled under Slaven Bilic at the start of season in a difficult period for everyone at the club. His lack of playing time in the previous season was evident in his performances, but slowly and surely he improved and began to show why he was and still is so adored by City fans.

He is not the sort of full back that will take players on and is limited in terms of pace, but what he lacks physically he more than makes up for in attitude as well experience. I’m sure most of us expected the younger, more dynamic Ryan Fredericks to make the right-back position his own this season after arriving from Fulham in the summer, yet Manuel Pellegrini has shown faith in his former player and that faith has thus far been repaid.

As one of the senior players in the team, as well one of the most senior defenders after James Collins’ departure, Zabaleta can play an important role for the club this season. In a back four that has played only a handful of games together, Zabaleta can provide stability and solidity. Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena are beginning to flourish this season in the centre of defence, yet they are still young and there is plenty that a Premier League winning defender like Zabaleta can teach them.

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His dogged performances this season, in particular at Everton away, are testament to his hard work and determination to continue playing in the Premier League and contributing to the club, rather than sitting on the bench whilst happily earning a healthy wage.

Compare his time at West Ham with fellow fullbacks Alvaro Arbeloa and Patrice Evra. Both came to the club with a wealth of experience at the highest level but left shortly after, failing to deliver on the pitch and drawing criticism from fans for their fitness levels and desire to play for the club. Arbeloa and Evra are as talented Zabaleta, yet neither showed his desire and dedication to play week in week out and succeed at the London Stadium.

Speaking to the club website after the Everton win the right-back said: “We improved the intensity. Everyone worked so hard for the 95 minutes and that is what you need, especially in this league.

“You need to give everything, 100 per cent, every single game, with everyone working hard for each other. You need concentration on all the corners, free-kicks, set plays, especially as this ground is a difficult one to get a result at.

“We did it on Sunday and now we have some tough games coming up, so that’s why it was so important to win at Everton.”

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Not giving everything is something which we criticise certain players for doing. We often berate Andy Carroll for his poor attitude as well prematurely criticising Lucas Perez after the confusion on the side lines at Goodison Park, but we are sometimes reluctant to praise ever-reliable players like Zabaleta.

At West Ham we don’t expect to have the most talented players. We don’t expect to have the most skilful players. What do expect is hard work. Zabaleta will never be spectacular but his dedication, commitment and passion typify what it means to play for West Ham. With other players following his example there’s every hope that we can turn this season around.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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