Super (Sub) Zabaleta?
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 29 April 2019 at 8:46pm
Written by : @AndyJPhipps
With the season slowly drawing to a close, the rumour mill is already spinning into action, churning out stories about who will go, who will come in and who will stay. One person who does look pretty certain to stay, however, having started 60% of this season’s fixtures and triggering a 12 month contract extension, is veteran of the game Pablo Zabaleta.
Zab is undoubtedly one of football’s good guys. Widely respected within the game for his application and professionalism both on and off the pitch, it’s nigh on impossible not to like him. Eleven days after that particular 3-0 spanking by Burnley in March 2018, West Ham played a fundraiser against a financially troubled Dagenham & Redbridge. With fan-club relations being at an all time low, you’d have forgiven any substituted player for hiding on the bench or in the dressing room. Not Zabaleta. He quietly took his place with the Hammers faithful, leaning on the railings, watching the game… before being mobbed by every man, woman and child within a one mile radius. When asked for selfies and autographs, he dutifully obliged.
Sadly, a club looking towards the ‘next level’ cannot rely on good reputations alone. Even with hard work must come quality and ability. In the last half a season, it can be argued that Zabaleta has lost half a yard of pace. At 34 years of age, he is not young, and blips within his game will be scrutinised and questioned as to whether they are signs of decline and not just mere mistakes. Zab, however, is not just any old player, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Players who rely on pace, sometimes struggle to adapt their style as they get older and, inevitably, slower. Zabaleta, on the other hand, has a pure footballing brain. His ability to read a game is phenomenal and whilst you won’t see him expressing that in an offensive way by spraying balls and making key passes, he will mentally keep up with the defensive side of play by foreseeing how the opposition will attack with runners and through balls. Zab is the sort of player who will quickly adjust and will fine tune his game to accommodate his limitations – and he knows this, saying he “would have a different role in the team, not to play as much. I know in myself that I cannot play the same amount of games that I have over the past two seasons.”
Zabaleta is also key in instilling Pellegrini’s blueprint of a ‘Big Club Mentality’. It came as no surprise that, after a more than shaky start, our season improved when Zabaleta came into the team and was picked on a regular basis. This is not to lay the blame of a leaky defence solely at Ryan Frederick’s door, but Zab, with his prior knowledge of Pellegrini’s defensive line and years as a captain, would certainly have been somebody the players looked towards to for guidance and reassurance. On top of this, his knowledge, passion and amiable manner means that he is undoubtedly like an extra coach on the training field, assisting youngsters and first teamers alike.
To conclude, Pablo Zabaleta is worth his weight in gold to West Ham United. His best years are, of course, behind him but somebody with his level of class and talent still has something to offer the side. He knows the club inside out, has a fantastic injury record (or lack of one) and is the sort of character we need if we are to achieve that status of ‘best of the rest’ outside the top six. Also, from a financial point of view, our rumoured small transfer budget means that we literally can’t afford to lose him. He might not always be a starter and may be best used to see out games in future, but one thing is for certain; Pablo Zabaleta is a super sub that many teams would be envious of.