Sublime and ridiculous, Zarate is still an unpolished diamond

David Bowden admits he can’t help liking West Ham’s flawed star

I f there were such a thing as a dictionary full of football terminology, under the phrase ‘luxury player’ would be two words – Mauro Zarate. You cannot afford to have too many luxury players at one club. In my view a luxury player is an individual who entertains, and is a bit of a maverick but doesn’t quite have the ability to produce it on a regular basis.

Unfortunately for Mauro, in the current squad we already have two expert exponents of that role in Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet but they do produce on a regular basis. The duo have been pulling the strings behind everything good in West Ham United’s play this season. That was never more evident than in the comeback victory against Southampton that saw the Argentine replaced at half-time after yet another disappointing display

On came Lanzini and immediately showed everything in his armory, which Zarate lacks. I have been a keen observer of the Argentine since the injuries to first Payet during the home fixture with Everton and the subsequent knock picked up by Zarate’s fellow countryman Lanzini. These unfortunate occurrences gave West Ham United’s number 10 the opportunity to stake a claim to be a regular starter for Slaven Bilic’s Irons.

His claim started magnificently with a sumptuous free kick against West Brom to put the Hammers one-nil up. Since then though, he has disappointed and struggled to make any real impact. He has also managed to go from hero to zero with a stunning miss against Manchester United, which in reality looked harder to miss than score. From that moment it looked as if he has had a crisis in confidence.

I have lost count of the number of times this season that I have seen Zarate run into cul-desacs and lose possession when his team-mates are in more favourable positions. I distinctly remember in the fixture against Stoke recently, when Zarate went on one of his trademark mazy runs and I’m in the stands shouting ‘don’t shoot, don’t shoot’. But he promptly produced an effort that cracked against the woodwork; he is just that sort of player. Magic one minute, clueless the next.

For every world-class strike, however, there is one that ends up in row Z and therein lies his problem. It seems crazy to say this, seeing as he is a professional footballer and a good one at that, but for me Zarate lacks a ‘footballing brain’. Time after time, he ignores the option of the player in space and the obvious ball to set the team through on goal, as he looks to grab the headlines with a fine individual goal.

It is that hot and cold nature that he has that drives fans crazy, but you cannot argue that he has a decent enough goal-scoring record for the club since joining from Velez Sarsfield in 2013 with five goals in 17 appearances. This could be seen as a rather damning report on the West Ham number 10, but I do like him as a player. He is a player, who can get you to the edge of your seat, but what follows usually leaves you plunging your head in your hands as his shot cannons into the fans behind the goal.

There is definitely a class player in there; he just needs to take a leaf out of his countryman and friend’s book. Because right now, when Payet and Lanzini both return to the fold, Zarate is going to be benched. From a team point of view, that may well prove to be a good thing. He is certainly a terrific option to have on the bench. Should Payet and Lanzini remain fit and well for the remainder of the season, it is very hard to see where the 28-yearold fits in.

With the emergence of the energetic Michail Antonio and with Victor Moses set to return soon, the Hammers are option rich in attacking positions. If the club strengthen this summer then this could prove to be Zarate’s final year at the club. Of course though until then, it would be nice to see a few more Zarate specials in the coming months. Either way he’ll get you on the edge of your seat.

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