(Credit: Ian Anderson)
Eamon Zayed has had an interesting few months. Towards the end of last season, which he spent playing for Sporting Fingal in their first ever Premier Division campaign, he received a call up for the Libyan national team. He made his international debut against Niger in November and received serious contract offers from clubs in the Libyan, Saudi Arabian and Egyptian leagues.
In the end he chose to stay closer to home and on Saturday afternoon the Dubliner signed for Stephen Kenny at Derry City for what promises to be an exciting new chapter in the striker's career. Extratime caught up with Zayed as he contemplates this latest development in his life as a professional footballer.
“Basically, coming towards the end of last season, I had my head set on moving away. Obviously the league here has had it's problems over the last couple of years. Fingal didn't really know where they were going with Gerry Gannon pulling out and then, obviously, [there was] Bohemians. Yeah, times have changed over the past few years, and when I went over to Libya options seemed to arise from that.
But they were options that soon became bogged down in politics. “Very strangely, just as I was about to sign for one of the teams over there, a rule was brought out that halted my signing. The rule basically stated that any professional that played in Europe who had come over to represent the Libyan national team couldn't play in the Libyan league unless he was thirty years or older.”
Zayed is coy about the reasons for such a rule, limiting himself to the observation that “There was a lot of politics involved”. However, while he was there Zayed met with an agent who helped to generate some more opportunities.
“An Egyptian agent got in touch with me. There was a Saudi Arabian team that was interested in a four month contract to the end of their season, and an Egyptian team. I was talking to [the agent] through Christmas and the new year and I went over a few weeks ago. I spoke to the Egyptian team, they offered me quite a good deal for a season and a half. They wanted me to sign there and then but I wasn't sure whether to commit for eighteen months. Obviously Egypt would be fairly new to me; the culture, the language, and I don't know too much about the league. I was happy to sign until the end of the season but it had to be a season and a half or nothing, so I decided against it.”
It was at this point that yet another option presented itself and Zayed received a call from Derry City manager, Stephen Kenny. “I had a good conversation with him over the phone and I knew after that what I wanted to do. He talked about where he saw me playing and the way he wanted me to play. The last couple of years at Sporting Fingal haven't been great for me. I haven't enjoyed it and I never felt settled, that's just being honest. Towards the end of my first season Liam (Buckley - the Fingal manager) played me out left. I happened to do okay and scored a few goals and from then on he saw me as a wide player. I don't mind playing out there now and again if you're covering for injuries but that's not my position. I've always been a striker and that's where I'm happiest.
The second season at Fingal, when we were in the Premier, Liam kept with his formation and left Gary O'Neill up front. Now, Gary O'Neill is probably, in my opinion, the best player in the league as a lone striker and while he was up there I was played out on the left. I never liked that, I never enjoyed it, and that's another reason why, when the whole Libya thing came up, I was delighted. I went over and it sort of reignited my hunger for football.
If Zayed is disappointed that an exotic future in Africa or the Middle East hasn't worked out then he hides it well. The prospect of resettling on the banks of the river Foyle is plainly something that excites him, as does the idea of joining up with a Derry City side that earned a reputation for playing attractive football last season.
“I'd heard great things about Stephen. I'm aware that he's one of, if not the best manager in the league. [He] was saying the he feels he has a team that are good enough to create a lot of chances and he wants me to play as an out and out striker, a natural number nine, getting on the end of chances. That's what I'm happiest doing and I think that's what I'm best at. I know he's brought players in up there before, Niall McGinn, Paddy McCourt and Killian Brennan, and he's brought the best out of them. I'm hoping, and I do believe, that he'll do that for me.”
Zayed is also aware of the talent that already exists at Derry City. “I know that there are very good players at Derry and I heard that there's two younger lads playing up there, James McLean and Pat McEleney, who make things happen. I feel that the team are going to create a lot of chances this year and hopefully I can get on the end of them.”
So, having passed on Cairo and Tripoli, how does the Dubliner feel about moving to Derry?
“I'm delighted to be moving up. I've been up there a few times and Derry seems like a lovely place. Everything is very friendly and I know it's a great footballing city. I know they love their football and the fans are unbelievable up there. I'm really excited. I'm looking forward to playing in front of the Derry crowd and playing my part.”
Simon O'Gorman began reporting for Extratime in 2010. He remembers Milltown and Flower Lodge and, back in the mists of time, saw Diego Maradona play at Lansdowne Road. He now lives in Co Kildare and reports on Shamrock Rovers among others. Simon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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