Bobby Zamora: 'The return from injury is tough. I miss everything'
Bobby Zamora was in the form of his life, and England's plans, before Karl Henry's tackle. He tells Glenn Moore how that feels
Saturday 09 October 2010
When a footballer suffers a serious injury the agony is captured by the cameras.
In the current climate a public debate then ensues as to whether the tackle was, in football parlance, "hard but fair". Was it "one of those things", or a "bit naughty?" Then the attention moves on to the next injury, or some new issue. The player cannot move on. He has to undertake the long haul of recuperation. He becomes semi-detached from his team, no longer a real part of their highs and lows, their wins and losses, even the daily banter. Instead the club physio becomes his new best friend and the gym his second home.
That is the place Bobby Zamora is in. This should be his time. With Jermain Defoe injured, the way would be clear for Zamora to reprise the impressive line-leading performance of his England debut against Hungary in August. He should be on the training field, under the watchful gaze of Fabio Capello, preparing to face Montenegro on Tuesday.
Instead the 29-year-old is holed up in a small room in a London hotel, paying his dues to his kit providers, Under Armour (there's irony). He talks glowingly of the American company's football boots, which he helped design, but a glance at his feet reveals it will be a while before he pulls them on again. His right foot is encased in a boot of a different kind, a calf boot with more protective padding around it than an NFL linebacker. Alongside lie a set of crutches.
Zamora is four weeks into what will be a lengthy rehabilitation after a tackle by Wolves' Karl Henry broke his leg and damaged ankle ligaments. The only bit of Under Armour gear he will need before Christmas is the recovery suit. He does not expect to be playing in the first team again until late February at best. Meanwhile Capello tried to lure Emile Heskey out of retirement, before calling up Kevin Davies, and at Fulham the new manager Mark Hughes is forced to work on developing a team without his centre-forward.
"I'm starting to get bored now," admits Zamora. "It's becoming a bit frustrating. I miss kicking the ball with the boys in training, I miss it all, all the day-to-day stuff. Returning from injury is long, hard, boring and depressing.
"You have to set goals and push on from each one. I have another five weeks with the boot [which keeps the foot in a fixed position] on, but in three weeks I will be allowed to walk on it. Once it's off I'll be able to do some bike work, then I'll absolutely batter the gym, so I can come back and give those defenders a hard time."
The gym work will be much-needed. "My calf muscles have pretty much gone already and the thigh is starting to go a bit," he says. "But injuries are part and parcel of football."
They are, but there is a growing feeling that in the English game too many are caused by unnecessarily violent tackles. Zamora's strike partner, Moussa Dembele, is currently out after suffering what was widely regarded as a needless and reckless tackle by Stoke's Andy Wilkinson. The man who injured Zamora, the Wolves captain Henry, is himself in the spotlight after being dismissed for a wild lunge at Wigan's Jordi Gomez last week.
"He did do a silly one the other day," reflects Zamora, "but did he mean to hurt me? I don't know. I can't see that anybody goes out to injure people really, I wouldn't like to think they do. And I've ridden worse tackles in the past."
Although Henry indicated after the match that some Fulham players had accused him of attempting to "do" Zamora, no foul was given and Hughes, who was outraged at Wilkinson's tackle on Dembele, was sanguine about the incident. "It's a shame but I don't really lay the blame on [Henry]. It's one of those," said Hughes. "There's always a danger if you get tackled from the side, or from behind: players' legs can get trapped. I don't think there was any intent to hurt Bobby."
Since Zamora and Henry share an agent, and have known each other from their England Under-21 days, it would hurt mentally as well as physically were Zamora to believe it was deliberate. The long lonely months of rehab are difficult enough without having to deal with a sense of bitterness. Clearly Zamora would prefer to think it was an accident, and in this case it seems it was, though whether Henry's approach to tackling raises the risk of serious injury is a moot point.
Zamora prefers to look forward, not least to when he can become a help, rather than a hindrance, around the house. He became the father of twin girls, Giselle and Sienna, two months ago but, he says: "It's a nightmare round the house, I can't even get up and carry them across the room. It is like there are three babies to deal with."
If the timing was bad domestically it was even worse professionally. It is not just that Zamora had broken into the England team, and was under new management at club level, he also spent most of the summer in rehab after an operation to fix a long-standing Achilles problem. After carrying the injury for the second half of last season Zamora chose surgery ahead of a place in England's World Cup squad.
"There was no point in going," he says. "I couldn't train. I hadn't been training at all. It just got worse. I probably shouldn't have played in the Europa Cup matches in Hamburg [the final and semi-final], but I was desperate to play."
Zamora, so impressive as Fulham put Shakhtar Donetsk, Wolfsburg and, especially, Juventus to the sword, was quiet in those games and he realised going to South Africa would be an error.
He says: "Not training, but maybe being asked to play, I wasn't going to do myself, the team, the country, justice. Of course it is a chance to go to the World Cup and in the back of your mind you think that chance may never come again, but I didn't want to go and let myself down."
After a summer of rehab he began this season in the sort of form which suggested it was the right decision, scoring and making goals. "It was the first time I'd been fully fit since last year and I was doing alright. I'd worked hard in the summer. Now I'll have to work hard again and come back stronger."
If Zamora seems remarkably matter-of-fact about his misfortune it is partly because his path to the top has helped him stay grounded. He was in the famed East End boys' club, Senrab, along with John Terry and Ledley King, and was taken on by West Ham. But he was released without playing a game and pitched up at Bristol Rovers, where he encountered Ian Holloway. It was not, however, until he enjoyed a successful loan spell at non-League Bath City that his career began to turn around with the goals continuing to flow after he joined Brighton.
"They were some of the best years, I absolutely loved it," he says. "The same with the apprenticeship at Rovers, that stood me in good stead. Youth players now don't have to do anything, they don't know they are born, it's all done for them. I was cleaning showers, toilets, washing kits, whatever. It was part of football then and it was character building."
Brighton led to England Under-21 recognition and a £1.5m transfer to Tottenham, but after managing a solitary goal he was traded to West Ham as part of the deal which took Defoe to Spurs. At West Ham he was intermittently successful but it was only last year, at Fulham, that he scored heavily again, his 19 goals being his best since leaving Brighton.
He puts the improvement down to playing in a more advanced role, rather than the confidence engendered by scoring goals, but Opta stats reveal his shooting accuracy increased dramatically which suggests the latter was a significant factor.
Now he has to regain fitness and confidence in his body and ability all over again. It will help that the club, and new manager, have faith in him. He signed a new four-year contract – lengthy given his age – the day before his injury. In the meantime it is back to rehab, and maybe, if he gets really bored, watching the DVD Hughes has promised to give him showing all the manager's volleyed goals. "He says it's eight hours long," said Zamora. Now there's an incentive to get in the gym.
Zamora on his mentors: Roy Hodgson and Ian Holloway
Zamora followed Blackpool's victory at Anfield last week with more interest than most. Roy Hodgson brought him to Fulham two years ago in a £4m deal, and oversaw his rejuvenation before moving to Liverpool in the summer. Blackpool's Ian Holloway gave him his League debut, at Bristol Rovers.
"Roy Hodgson was good for me, and good for the team, and I was obviously disappointed when he left Fulham, but I can't blame him. Liverpool are one of the big clubs in the world. The criticism he is getting is ridiculous. It is far too early for that, especially as he has been unlucky with injuries. Any sane person knows Liverpool will not be down there at the end of the season.
"He does have his own way of playing, and it takes a while for everyone to pick it up and know where they need to be, but I am sure when they do Liverpool will be even harder to beat than they were before.
"We played Blackpool earlier in the season and we probably should have won. They play risky football. It is attacking football but they are quite open at the back. In most matches they will either do alright, or they will get hammered. It is the way they play, they go at people and they will pick up a few wins. Their players will relish going to stadiums like Anfield and playing the best players in the world. So will Holloway. He was a real character."
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