This winter transfer window has been an interesting one. It proves a couple of points about the English Premier League and the nature of transfers in the winter. First, there is a widely held belief that the winter transfer market is overpriced and it seems that top six clubs generally have to over pay for what they buy in January. In case of a debate, I just name three Liverpool transfers – Suarez, Coutinho and Sturridge to counter this, but I do agree that aside from a few examples here and there, January purchases are dearer than they should be. So to ensure they don’t over pay this time, the top six in the league have just not ventured into the market, bar the return of loan players and pre-purchased players joining their new clubs (Gabriel Jesus).
The second point that I see as proven is that with the prize money from new TV rights starting to get distributed from the end of this season, the lower half of the English Premier League is going to feel incentivized in splashing cash to ensure that they do not get relegated. This season, some of those lower half sides and especially those in danger of slipping down have been very active and they have been buying from leagues generally targeted by top half. They have been shopping in Serie A, lower half of La Liga, Super League in Greece, instead of looking for cheap English talent from the Championship.
One club that has been shopping in Serie A is Watford. A bit expected, given that Walter Mazzari managed several Seria A clubs including Inter and Napoli before joining Watford. Two names stand out among those who have been convinced by Mazzari to join the Hornets – Mauro Zarate from Fiorentina and M’Baye Niang on loan (with an option to buy) from AC Milan. Both are classified as forwards by most stats websites, although Mazzari did play the latter on the left wing against Arsenal on Tuesday.
The fact that Watford went ahead and brought in two forwards points to two things – erratic form of Troy Deeney and the looming move of Ighalo to China. The two forwards that ensured Watford’s continuity in the Premier League last season, have not been able to replicate that kind of form this season – although Deeney has scored six. So Watford need forwards who can score a few and Mazzari believes that Zarate and Niang fit the bill. We take a look at them to see if they do. In this first part, I take a look at Mauro Zarate.
The Argentine forward is a well-traveled one. In a senior team career spanning close to 13 years, he has played for seven clubs – most (126 appearances) for Lazio. He also has made 40 appearances in the Premier League, most of them for West Ham United (QPR and Birmingham are the other sides). He even has 8 Europa League goals (including qualifiers for Lazio, Fiorentina and West Ham) and one Champions League goal for Inter. Like his latest manager, he has won the Coppa Italia once, but has also won a bunch of other trophies including Under-20 World Cup, Italian Super Cup and the Argentine Primera Liga.
On the face of it, the Vicarage Road faithful could be very pleased with this transfer, especially as the Hornets have got Zarate for less than £3M. But there are a few things that could be dampeners. First and the most obvious is that Zarate’s stay is not likely to be a long one. Other than at Lazio and Velez (his hometown club), he has rarely stayed beyond a season at a single club. At 29 years of age, he might be treating this move as a stepping stone – just not to bigger Premier League clubs, but also to the only league that is poaching from the Premier League – Chinese Super League.
Ability-wise he is distinctly average – 92 goals in 305 senior games i.e. a goal every 3.3 games cannot make a fan giddy. Even including assists, his goal contribution has been 135 in 305 appearances – a goal or an assist every 2.3 appearances. In terms of minutes, this seems slightly better – a goal or an assist every 175 minutes. However, this means that he plays only 66 minutes per appearance on an average. Indeed, in 185 of his 305 appearances he has either been subbed out (103 times) or subbed in (82 times). This is not due to many long-term injuries however. In his long career, he has suffered long-term injuries only thrice (twice with thigh and once with knee), being absent for a total of 124 days and missing only 19 games.
This tells me that Zarate is an average player and has found a small measure of success with Lazio in Serie A a few years back. But would he be able to fill in the shoes of Ighalo or Deeney (last season form) in future? I have my doubts. Not because the player is injury prone but because he does not get enough minutes even when he is not injured i.e. his managers generally consider him to be an option from the bench, just in case their plan A does not work and more importantly, he does not stay at any club for long.
I think Mazzarri too is thinking of him as an able option from the bench but not really a long-term option. Perhaps M’Baye Niang is that player. We take a look at him in Part 2.