The Fulham striker tells Gary Andrews how Roy Hodgson’s organisation has the Cottagers flying high, and why he’s unconcerned by his lack of goals.
When Fulham head to Newcastle this weekend, casual observers could be forgiven for expressing surprise that the two clubs’ respective positions aren’t reversed. After all, Newcastle were meant to be ushering in a new era under Sam Allardyce at the start of this season, while Fulham had only just escape relegation by the skin of their teeth.
Instead it’s Roy Hodgson’s men who have Europe within their sights after a season that has seen, among other things, the Cottagers outplay Manchester United in the league. It’s a state of affairs that’s surprised their striker Bobby Zamora as much as it has the neutrals.
“At the start of the season, if you’d said to any of us that where we’ll be come the end, I’d have said you were crazy or would have snapped your hand off at the opportunity,” grins the 6ft 1″ striker, clearly relishing being part of this current Fulham side. “But saying that, it’s just the fruits of hard work and organisation.”
Read the Soccerlens interview with Bobby Zamora, after the jump.
Working his way up through the leagues
That answer sums both Zamora the person and Zamora the player up nicely. Even when put in the spotlight, he’s quick to praise others and modestly talk of the hard work that those around him put it. This may, in part, be down to his experiences in his early years of his career.
As a youngster, Zamora played for the famous East London Senrab boys along with John Terry, Ledley King, Paul Konchesky and Jlloyd Samuel. While his friends went onto establish themselves in Premier League teams, Zamora was released from West Ham, the team he’d supported all his life, and was forced to drop down the divisions, ending up at Bristol Rovers, where he also struggled to establish himself.
A loan spell at non-league Bath City, where he scored eight goals in six games, was followed by another loan spell, this time at Brighton and Hove Albion, then in the fourth tier of English football. Brighton liked the young striker so much the signed him permanently, and he repayed them by scoring 62 goals in 90 appearances to fire the Seagulls to successive promotions.
“It’s been an experience, you know,” he says, when asked if it’s shaped his attitude to the game. “I’ve had to sample every division. I don’t think anybody else in the Premiership has really done that.
“It’s a humbling yet enjoyable route to where I am now, but it truly has been brilliant. I wouldn’t have changed anything.”
Games and goals
It’s this attitude, you suspect, that helps him get through the lean spells in his striking career. When Glenn Hoddle took Zamora to Spurs, he failed to find the net in 16 Premier League appearances. At his beloved West Ham, where he scored the goal that took them to the Championship, but only scored 30 league goals.
This season, Zamora has scored just four times, the last of which was against Swansea in the FA Cup in February. But, typically, the striker, who Brighton manager Micky Adams once said was better than Alan Shearer, takes it in his stride.
“The goals haven’t been coming but, I mean, it’s sort of a different role I have to play really – it’s not all-out attack. When I haven’t got the ball, I’m sitting on the holding centre-midfielder and defending.
“I’m not making excuses but every other part of my game has been good, you know: holding the ball up, bringing people into play, and I think somebody said a stat to me the other day that I was up there in terms of creating chances for other people. If I’m not scoring, I’m setting someone else up or setting someone up for a shot.
“That’s good enough for me and as long as we win, I couldn’t care if it’s one-nil and [Mark] Schwarzer scores from a goal kick. I really couldn’t care. As long as we win and stay in this division, that’s my main goal.”
Zamora, you feel, does has a point. Certainly Roy Hodgson has seen his worth, giving him 32 starts in the Premier League this season, where he’s complemented Andy Johnson nicely. And while a striker’s ultimately judged by the number of goals he’s scored, a good support striker helps the whole team tick and that’s what you suspect Zamora is referring to. After all, Emile Heskey is hardly prolific yet has constantly been in demand, and Zamora acknowledges as much:
“For myself, as a striker, you’re thought to be scoring goals and doing all of that and attacking but I find the way the gaffer wants it, we’re also doing a hell of a lot of defending and working hard and I think that shows in our team performances.”
The gaffer Zamora is referring to is, of course, Roy Hodgson, who has turned the Cottagers from relegation strugglers to European contenders in a little over twelve months, becoming a hard team to beat in the process. The difference under Hodgson, says Zamora, is the discipline and organisation the former Blackburn and Inter Milan manager has installed in the squad.
“He did a magnificent job at the end of last season, signed a few players but, to be honest, it’s just organisation. I keep saying it and that’s purely what we’ve done.
“We go in to work and pretty much every day is pretty similar, but it shows on the pitch because everybody knows exactly where we’re supposed to be.”
Zamora, of course, has played under many different managers including Ian Holloway, Peter Taylor, Glenn Hoddle, Alans Curbishley and Pardew, and the newly unemployed Steve Coppell, who he describes as quite similar to Hodgson, although asking to compare his current boss to previous managers draws a furrowed brow.
“He’s quite hard to sum up actually. He’s quite quiet, doesn’t really need to shout, because you know exactly where you stand with him, which is good.
“The thing at Fulham is we’re all dedicated, we all want to do well, so in terms of shouting and getting us going, it’s not needed. We all want to do well.”
Europe: The final countdown
The team spirit at Craven Cottage is something Zamora emphasises time and again, and it’s understandable. It’s the same team spirit that has carried Fulham to within touching distance of a Europa League spot and their highest ever finish in the Premier League.
But with Spurs, Manchester City and, of course, West Ham all competing for the 7th place that Fulham currently occupy, Zamora refuses to get carried away from the subject of Europe is mentioned.
“We’ve got two tough games first, you know,” he insists. “We’ve got Newcastle who are fighting for their lives up there and they’ve got sixty-five, seventy thousand people screaming for them – it’s not going to be easy.
Then we’ve got Everton. They’ve have been one of the surprise packages this season, so it’s not going to be easy at all. If we do it, it’ll be lovely, but in all honesty, we’re not looking at that a the minute.”
But Zamora has got a habit of popping up at the right time with important goals and you sense the six million pound striker is in the mood to finish the season on a high. Come 5pm on Saturday, just be surprised if he continues his habit of proving people wrong and getting on the scoresheet.
Bobby Zamora was speaking at the launch of the new Under Armour boots range. He wears he UA Dominate Pro FG leather boot, which, along with the UA Create Pro FG synthetic boot will be available in Autumn / Winter 2009. The boots are designed to provide power and control along with protection and comfort.