Can West Ham and Zaza make their unlikely alliance work?

Neither club nor player can claim this was what they really wanted

He hasn’t set the Premier League alight just yet but if Slaven Bilic is willing to be patient with Simone Zaza, we have to respect and trust this decision.

Th e 25-year-old became West Ham’s eleventh signing of the summer transfer window on August 28 but Bilic admitted early on that it might take him a while to settle into life in England. Was Zaza West Ham’s first choice? It’d be tempting to say no given the list of names that the club seemed to tick off before securing his signature.

But we can also reasonably agree that West Ham wasn’t Zaza’s first choice either. His father even indicated that he was waiting to hear from Napoli and there had been plenty of talk of a move to the Italian side, but they failed to complete talks, so the striker turned his attentions elsewhere.

So it might not appear to be a match made in heaven, but it looks as though the 25-year-old could have something to off er in East London. His is also a name that we’ve oft en heard spoken, but how much does his career to date tell us about what he has to off er in East London? Zaza hails from the south of Italy, and he earned his full international call-up two years ago aft er a good season at Sassuolo — a season that saw his highest goal tally in his short career to that point.

We’ve heard from the man himself that he aims to mirror the successes of fan favourite and fellow Italian Paolo Di Canio, indicating his desire to have a significant impact on the club and the fans. West Ham is Zaza’s eighth club since he began to play professional football in 2008, at the age of just 17. It’s fair to say his early years were slow in terms of game time.

Aft er impressing in the Alalanta youth setup, he earned himself three brief league appearances followed by just two appearances for Sampdoria totaling twelve minutes. With the desire to play more football, Zaza remained in Italy and went on loan for two consecutive seasons to Juve Stabia (Serie B), Viareggio (Lega Pro Prima Divisione) and Ascoli (Serie B). Almost six months, and just four appearances into his Juve Stabia loan, Zaza expressed desire to return to Sampdoria in order to seek more playing minutes.

His club took action and loaned him to Viareggio, which worked out well for the eager striker. Th e Italian clocked up 18 appearances, of which 17 were starts, in the league and netted 11 times — this was his opportunity to shine and he took it. A further loan move to Ascoli the following season was equally fruitful for the striker even as the club suffered relegation. Eighteen goals in 35 games was an impressive tally.

It was at this stage in his career that he was worth money, and in fact, two clubs paid for him in a co-ownership deal between Juventus and Sassuolo. The then 22-year-old was worth an initial €3.5million and €2.5million to the Italian clubs respectively. This increased to €7.5million for Sassuolo as they chose to sign him the season after the co-ownership agreement.

He turned out first for Sassuolo and scored 21 goals in all competitions in two seasons and earned his international call up from Antonio Conte in that time. This was enough to spur Juventus on to re-sign the forward for an impressive €18million at the beginning of last season (15/16). The Serie A side brought him in with the view of replacing Carlos Tevez following an ultimatum over his undecided future. Some boots to fill!

Zaza netted on his debut from outside the box in that striking, bright pink jersey. Albeit thanks to a slight deflection, it was a good start to his career at such a prolific club. In that season, he also earned valuable Champions League playing time, scoring once in the competition — a goal that showed his pace and composure in a one-onone with the goalkeeper

So, to date, the Italian has scored 59 goals in all competitions. For those of you who like a good stat, that works out at around one goal every three and a half games, which given his very little playing time in many of those early games, is decent. Are the early indications and his potted history good enough to make Zaza Bilic’s ‘marquee signing’, though? Forever the optimist, I see the good side in new signings until proved wrong.

He clearly made the right impressions on Bilic by scoring against the Hammers in the London Stadium opener, a game that Zaza says showed him the draws of the impressive stadium and ‘warm’ fans. Slaven sees the positives on paper, and despite the club being linked with several names before Zaza signed on the dotted line, the Hammers boss has high hopes for his striker. During Euro 2016, Zaza stepped out for the Italian side with new league teammate Angelo Ogbonna.

The West Ham defender has opened up about his conversations with the striker and convinced him that the ‘great atmosphere’ was worth the move along with the ambitions of the club. The European competition didn’t prove a huge success for Zaza. His only goal came in the preceding qualifiers and he set up one goal in the group stages. Then, of course, came the subject countless memes — THAT penalty miss in the quarter-finals against Germany, which saw the Italians knocked out of the competition. He led with what can only be described as an on-the-spot duck waddle and blasted high and wide, much to his embarrassment.

It was a display of showing off that just didn’t go well. Is that something in his locker that is to be expected? Well, let’s just say he could put together a showreel, but to be fair to him, it’s not all style and no substance. He’s got the ability to show some flair and score some cracking goals. He brings with him pace, a good left foot and the capacity to think one step ahead. He also possesses a characteristic proving useful for the Hammers these days; he’s over six foot tall.

A key indicator as to how well he will settle into life at West Ham could be his partnership with Dimitri Payet. Both have clear ability and if they can learn to read one another, there is potential for a strong route to goal and some consistency. Oh, and for the record, Bilic has confirmed that Zaza won’t be on spotkick duty.

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