When Roy Hodgson told Bobby Zamora before the Sunderland game to make a nuisance of himself, the striker took his words all to literally.
Of course, Hodgson intended for the target to be the Black Cats defence, not those who contribute towards a large percentage of the former West Ham man’s wage packet – and chant his name every single game – the fans. But, not for the first time, Zamora undid all his hard work on the pitch with a foolish celebration intended to silence what is a small minority of fans who do not understand, or perhaps appreciate, the big man’s input.
His input, which constitutes putting himself about for 90 minutes, winning headers, and bringing the midfield into play, all of which he contributed at the weekend, means – at least according to his manager and the BBC live text team – that he should be in Fabio Capello’s reckoning for South Africa. The general consensus that he is better than Emile Heskey is the background to that argument, never mind the fact Heskey should be nowhere near a Three Lions jersey in the first place.
Rarely does a striker divide opinion within his own fan base quite so much. In normal instances, it is simple to evaluate whether a striker is any good or not. He either puts the ball in the net all the time, much like Didier Drogba, or he is referred to as a ‘target man’. In this writer’s opinion, a target man should still be able to finish good chances more often than not, however, which is why Heskey is the benchmark against which all robust, unselfish (read: no good if they can’t score) forwards should be judged. Zamora last season well and truly fell into that classification, with some shooting boots being all he needed to make the transition from a two goals a season striker, to a two-figure goals a season one. Name another club where a striker could score just two goals in 35 league appearances yet still hear his name sung from the stands each and every week – there isn’t one. With four in 12 so far this campaign, there is undeniably improvement in the goal-scoring department, but that still equates to six in a season and a half, which is certainly not grounds for any finger-to-lip celebration – certainly not when aimed at the home support.
Watching Fulham play, it is obvious Zamora is vital to the success of the team, and the Sunderland centre-backs are just two more for the long list of defenders whose lives have been made miserable by the ex-Brighton legend. This writer fully understands what Zamora brings to the pitch, but some people are never happy – and he would do well to understand that. By listening to the outspoken minority, he is in danger of falling out with those who – loudly at Craven Cottage, but perhaps quietly outside of it – support him. The BBC comments may make him realise his worth, or they may give him itchy feet and a longing to join a club which can provide for his England ‘ambitions’. Hopefully for the player himself, he does not take it too seriously. As good as he is, top-level international football is a separate matter entirely, and Hodgson, along with many in the media who are calling for his call up, probably just have a bout of World Cup fever.
The mystery disease which comes around every four years has also led many in the press to the most extraordinary of conclusions – that Clint Dempsey can play football. Rarely, if ever, has the mass media praised the talents of the Texan midfielder, but throw the USA into a World Cup group with England and he is suddenly very good at his job. So at Craven Cottage on Sunday, as if by magic, the American gave those outside the apparent media black hole of SW6 a preview for June 12, 2010.
Putting in arguably a (yet another) Man of the Match performance against the Black Cats, Dempsey, although he didn’t find the net on Sunday, will not be far off being Fulham’s top scorer again this season. And as one of the USA’s star players, he will have a bonus game to unsettle an English defence in South Africa. Who knows, perhaps Dempsey will find himself as Zamora’s opposite number for once – stranger things have happened. Or, thinking twice, perhaps they haven’t.