The man of the moment – whether it is being linked with a move to Real Madrid, or being chastised for a goal-less spree that even Bobby Zamora would be ashamed of, Amr Zaki has been the hot topic since this season started.
Hitting the scene with a pre-season flurry and a fantastic volley against West Ham, the striker began the season on a high, becoming an instant fans` favourite with an endless work rate and some fuelled performances.
Rumours followed in their numbers, some with less truth than an Ashley Cole wedding vow, all dismissed by Bruce as he tried desperately to dampen the speculation and keep the player`s feet firmly fixed to the ground, and firmly in Wigan.
The manager warned of a potential downturn in form, concerned over how the player`s form may cool with the winter months. His concerns proved to be more than justified, as the Egyptian`s goal record receded to the odd penalty kick. With a partner who is known well for his lack of goals, and a midfield contributing little to the scoresheet, the pressure and over reliance appeared to be getting to Zaki.
Was his early season form simply ‘flash in the pan` as many fans have claimed, or is the player whose overhead acrobatics and bulldog-like style left fans agog in his opening months, simply having an extended dip in form, with a crisis in confidence he is just not accustomed to, having spent his entire career scoring consistently in the Egyptian league?
Without a goal in 10 games, and a shocking 22 games without a strike from open play, fans have started to get on the 26 year old`s back. Those, whose praise had reached almost paternalistic proportions in the opening weeks, have now expressed exasperation at his collapse in form.
It has been claimed in some sections that the downturn is a direct result of striking partner, Emile Heskey, leaving the club in the January transfer window. This is simply not true. The goals dried out well before Heskey left for pastures new.
Then there are those who suggest that the striker has changed his playing style, and this is the reason behind his failures in front of goal. Let`s examine where the criticism has been focused with Zaki.
First, there is his tendency (or fixation as many fans would put it) to drift out to the wings, rather than make runs into the box. This limits the options for the ball carrier, as they are forced to play the ball aimlessly amongst the midfield, without a constructive outlet for which to aim for.
Defenders hate nothing more than strikers running in behind, in between central defenders and challenging the offside trap repeatedly. Zaki has never made these runs, and with his work rate and pace it is not only a surprise, but clearly a missed opportunity.
It is rare he finds himself one on one with the goalkeeper, and with his composed finish at Anfield after dispossessing Daniel Agger, this is certainly a shame. This is not a new shortfall of the striker`s play, and these runs have never been a part of his game.
Another way the Egyptian likes to play is to come deep and collect the ball; however this is often followed by falling to the ground under the slightest of touches. Again, this is not new. What`s new is the rate of success.
Earlier in the season, Man City a good example, the tumbles often won a free kick in a great position, and he was described as an irritating and constant hazard to oppositions. Lately, officials do appear to have clicked on, and what we are now more likely to see is possession being handed over the opposing side, another lacklustre attack frustratingly passing us by.
It doesn`t therefore appear that Zaki`s style has been changed dramatically. He will still chase down the keeper at every chance, put defenders under instant pressure, but a dismal spell has given him a highly dented state of confidence, his desperation to get that elusive goal meaning he makes the wrong decisions. These often result in the inevitable loss of the ball or ends with a rather drab stab at goal.
No more do the media link our Egyptian sensation with a move to Spanish giants, Real Madrid, with a return to Zamalek looking increasingly the likelier outcome. Many fans still feel that Zaki undoubtedly has the talent to extend his achievements in this league, with unquestionable technical ability demonstrated with the quality of his strikes at Upton Park and Anfield, and equally unquestionable commitment to the cause, contrasting sharply with the often lethargic style of his compatriot.
The question that is at the foreground of the fans` thoughts though, is whether Amr Zaki is just a goal away from continuing his fantastic rise to the top, or if torturous droughts like this one will be as long and as frequent as those so common in his homeland.
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