Failed at Spurs, improved at West Ham, but Hodgson found the right formula

Youth and redemption were the buzzwords of England’s friendly win over Hungary two weeks ago. But it was 29-year old Bobby Zamora who was the most impressive debutant. Fabio Capello had inferred that the Fulham striker would have been on the plane to South Africa if it was not for his troublesome Achilles. It is a remarkable transformation for the former Brighton and Hove Albion man who flopped at Tottenham Hotspur and enjoyed mixed success at West Ham. He made it a trio of London clubs when he signed for Fulham in summer 2008. Through a consistent run of games his performances have blossomed at Craven Cottage bestowing him with recognition far beyond SW6.

It has been an exhausting journey for the imposing forward who has played in all of the Football Leagues during his career. The Barking born player was first noticed at Brighton where he scored 83 goals in 136 appearances, helping take the club from League Two to the division now known as The Championship. His rampant goal-scoring form saw Zamora individually promoted to the Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur. His appearances were limited and momentary, scoring his only goal for the club in their extra-time victory over West Ham in the Carling Cup.

Fittingly, after a frustrating year at White Hart Lane he was signed by the Hammers in 2004. Despite dropping a division Zamora was happy to be back at his boyhood club and utilised his Football League experience to propel West Ham back into the PL. In 2005 he scored the only goal in the play-off final against Preston North End. He played an important role in the following season which saw the club record a top half finish and reach the final of the FA Cup. His form initially continued into the next season but he then suffered a baron spell in front of goal. Injuries disrupted his season too but he is still fondly remembered at Upton Park for his part in their ‘great escape.’ He formed an excellent understanding with Carlos Tevez and scored an audacious lob to give West Ham the first ever away victory at the Emirates Stadium.

He was a diligent servant but was never prolific, being sold to Fulham the following summer. Zamora was angered at Dean Ashton’s loftier reputation at West Ham who was frequently favoured ahead of him. Yet few would have believed that the journeyman would be pitting his wits against Fabio Cannavaro and Giorgio Chiellini within two seasons at the Cottage. Certainly there was no indication of this during his first season there, netting a meagre two PL goals. But former Fulham manager, Roy Hodgson retained confidence in Zamora who made the prudent decision of resisting the overtures of Phil Brown and Hull City.

Barring a few angry goal celebrations he comprehensively conquered his critics last season, scoring 21 in all competitions including a stunning strike against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Europa League. He and Fulham seemed to prosper against illustrious opposition such as Juventus and domestically over Liverpool and Manchester United. His goals were crucial but so too was his link-up play with Zoltan Gera. He exhibited a delicate touch for a big man and held up the ball well to intelligently bring others into the attack. It was a desperate shame for Fulham that Zamora could not play a more prominent role in their Europa League final defeat to Atletico Madrid. Nevertheless it was an extraordinary season which the striker attributed to a constant run of matches and his team-mates. “I think simply being able to play a lot of games was the key. Everybody knew exactly what I wanted, how I wanted the ball played to me.”

That understanding and awareness on the pitch was displayed as Fulham earned a 2-2 draw with Manchester United at the weekend. His movement was too canny for Johnny Evans as he peeled to the right before astutely cutting the ball back to Simon Davies who found the net. It was another accomplished performance from a player who keeps progressing.

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