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Chris of Jokes

Zamora happy to play his part

last updated Saturday 06th December 2008, 11:20 AM

Having found the net just once in 15 starts this season, you might expect Fulham striker Bobby Zamora to be a little sensitive about the question of goalscoring. In fact he has a lot to say about the subject.

Bobby Zamora
Bobby Zamora

In many interviews one question will be left to the end, so if the interviewee takes umbrage and walks out there will still be a full notebook to work with. This is especially so with subjects who rarely agree to interviews.

So it was this week when approaching the first interview Bobby Zamora has submitted to since his obligatory signing-on press conference in the summer. The delicate subject was goals, or rather, his lack of them. When Fulham paid West Ham £6m for Zamora and John Pantsil pre-season the thick end went on the striker. Zamora has subsequently started 15 matches, and scored once. That followed a solitary goal last season – against already relegated Derby in April. Goalscoring thus seemed a sensitive issue.

It is, but one Zamora tackled head-on. Forty-five seconds into our conversation he said, of his season so far, "Obviously I would love a few more goals, but that hasn't happened."

He added, by way of mitigation, "There are other parts of my game which have been good, which I've been pleased with, holding the ball up, putting a lot of work in on the defensive stuff."

"Even AJ [strike-partner Andrew Johnson] who has four goals [in 12 starts], feels he has not got enough. You look at the [scoring] table and see people have got 10 goals, you want to be there.

"People that don't go to every game, who just look at the stats, think, 'He's not scoring goals, he's not doing nothing, he's rubbish.' But you look at Robbie Keane, two goals in 15 league games, and he's worth £20m. No one is going to call him a crap player."

As Zamora says, goals are the currency by which strikers are usually judged and he used to bank plenty. When he burst onto the scene in the fourth tier at Brighton, having joined them from Bristol Rovers where he had failed to get a start, he scored 62 goals in his first 90 appearances to spearhead successive promotions. A move to Tottenham followed, but 16 Premier League outings, mainly off the bench, failed to deliver a goal. He dropped into the Championship with West Ham and scored the winner in the promotion play-off final in 2005 but has subsequently averaged a goal every five top flight outings.

It is not good enough for a striker, even if the figures look better when substitute appearances and substitutions are factored in.

Or is it? Emile Heskey's record is similar and he is a fixture in the England team. By contrast Kris Boyd may be the most prolific pure goalscorer in Britain, but he is not even guaranteed a start in the Rangers' team. It seems there may be more to playing up front than scoring goals. Harry Redknapp provided further evidence this week when he explained why he dropped his top scorer, Darren Bent, for Spurs' midweek Carling Cup quarter-final at Watford. "Since scoring a few goals," explained Redknapp, Bent "had taken his foot off the pedal, he wasn't doing the other things, showing for the ball, holding it up, closing people down."

That is where the lean 27-year-old Zamora compensates for his lack of goals. "We look a hard team to beat," he said, "our goal-against record is really good, and that comes from every single one of us being involved. Myself and AJ know exactly where we have to be when the opposition have got the ball. It helps and it shows in the record. If we two lads at the front were just to let our opponents do what they want to do, I'm sure we would let a few more goals in."

Indeed Zamora and Johnson have become a handful for any defence, working them around when Fulham have the ball, closing them down when they do not. Roy Hodgson, the Fulham manager, does not just appreciate this, he demands it. "He makes it clear to every one of us where we should be at different times. We're not robots but we are organised. It is drilled in. It is a bit tedious at times for us, we all want to do the fun things [in training] but the proof is in the pudding – where we are in the league."

In the case of Zamora and Johnson this means game-by-game instruction on what they do when a Fulham attack breaks down. Do they block off the goalkeeper's throw out to the full-backs? Do they drop off and force the centre-halves to play long? Do they press the central defenders? One imagines they would be told not to allow Rio Ferdinand time to pick a pass, but Sol Campbell might be given time on the ball, but no easy passing option.

Before we sit down, Zamora and the rest of the squad have undergone a long briefing about how today's opponents, Manchester City, play, with video and Pro-Zone used to illustrate it. Then they practised putting the theory into practice at the south west London training ground. The reserves aped City's style with Julian Gray impersonating Robinho.

Zamora has had a Who's Who of managers, from Ian Holloway ("a nut, but brilliant") and Micky Adams ("a right character") through the likes of Peter Taylor, Glenn Hoddle, Steve Coppell, Alan Pardew and Alan Curbishley. How does Hodgson fit in?

"He's hard to categorise," said Zamora. "He knows exactly what he wants. He's a bit Jekyll and Hyde. He gets his point across firmly but he's not a shouter, he praises you when you've done well."

It was Hodgson who sold Fulham to Zamora in the summer. It was with reluctance this boyhood Hammer left Upton Park for the second time, having been released by them as a teenager, but he felt he was being messed around by "people upstairs – not Curbs, I don't think he had much pull with them". Zamora said he looked at the team Hodgson was putting together, including Johnson who was being pursued, and thought, "that's a good Premier League side, one which will pass the ball, one I want to be involved with."

It says something for Zamora's confidence, and willingness to take on a challenge, that he was happy to sign despite being told another striker (Johnson), was their "top target". Fulham already had Hodgson's January recruits Erik Nevland and Eddie Johnson, plus £6m signing Diomansy Kamara. But Zamora has a resilience and inner belief which stems from his days in youth football. He played for the famous East London Senrab boys team, where his contemporaries included John Terry, Ledley King, Jlloyd Samuel, and current team-mate Paul Konchesky.

Samuel and Konchesky were the first to break into the limelight but Zamora, trying to establish himself at Bristol Rovers after being rejected by a string of clubs, was inspired rather than jealous. "I would think to myself, 'I used to play with those guys, they weren't head and shoulders above me, far from it. They are in the Premier League, so it is a matter of time before I get there. A door will open, my face will fit'."

Even now the Senrab link is a motivational tool. "It's crazy, but I like playing against John Terry and Ledley. I know exactly what Ledley is doing against me. These guys are playing for England, John is captain. So if have a bad game against another centre-half I don't worry as I know I can do well against two of the best defenders around."

There is also the backing of his parents. "They've always been supportive, the usual stuff parents do." Sadly, as his father would be able to tell him from his days as a social worker (his mother was a teacher), that is not always guaranteed.

Nevertheless, like any player, Zamora can be afflicted by self-doubt. An analysis of his scoring records suggests he scores in bursts, interspersed with fallow periods. Perhaps worryingly for Hodgson, Johnson has a similar pattern. "Confidence is a factor," Zamora admitted. "Recently I've not been scoring but I've made sure every other part of my game is going well. I'm sure the goals will come, I'm waiting for one that drops down and I just tap it in."

It might happen today, but even if it does not City's defenders will see enough of Zamora's 6ft 1in frame to know they have been in a game.

My other life

"I'm quite lively and loud in the changing room and at training, but when I get home I like to switch off. I'm very boring really. I walk the dog and chill out. I watch a lot of movies, anything that's on. I like R'n'B and rap but I've got all sorts on my iPod. I'm not really into reading but I'll pick up the odd book, like Lance Armstrong's one [It's Not About the Bike, the story of how he overcame cancer to become a serial winner of the Tour de France]. That'll get you going if you are ever having a bad time; he's a machine."

Bobby Zamora made more substitute appearances than starts for both Bristol Rovers (six as sub/no starts) and Tott-enham Hotspur (11 as sub/seven starts).

Source Glenn Moore at Independent
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