It has been a long time coming, but Simone Zaza has finally scored in the league. His goal came for Valencia as they beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0 on Sunday. The strike occurred in the 45th minute, with the type of cool finish West Ham fans were expecting from the much-maligned Italian.
Zaza joined the Hammers on loan at the start of the season and struggled during his time at London Stadium. In fact, his only goal at the stadium came for his parent club, Juventus, in a friendly match at the stadium. During 11 matches in East London, Zaza failed to even come close to scoring.
Criticism of the striker was harsh, especially as his introduction to many Hammers’ fans was the comical penalty shootout miss for Italy in the 2016 European Championships.
This incident had a strong impact on the player’s mentality and could explain some of his struggles for West Ham:
"It's been a year full of things. 2016 started well for me but did not finish very well.
Let's say the story was complicated half way through the year. The penalty was a problem that has traumatised me a lot. If we think about it for another five minutes, it will trouble me.
After the European Championships I was really bad, this summer I lost so much weight.
The videos weren’t the things that did me most harm. Now I laugh about the ‘Zaza dance’. Now I can laugh about it. The people have made me suffer with a wrong image of me, as if I were superficial or conceited."
This glaring lack of confidence manifested itself on the pitch. The low point of Zaza’s time in claret in blue came when his shot in the Manchester United penalty area went out for a throw-in.
Slaven Bilic confirms Simone Zaza's 'story with West Ham' is finished.— Marathonbet (@marathonbet) January 5, 2017
Hammers fans will be happy to see him gone.pic.twitter.com/gsZOjYI2O2
Zaza’s loan was terminated during the January transfer window and the striker moved on loan to Valencia, of Spain’s La Liga later that month. He admitted that mentality was a limitation to his time in England:
"Everything started badly from the outset, I think the main blame lies with me because I was not right mentally, I was very negative and in all the things that happened I never saw the positive side.”
With the various missed chances at West Ham, many fans felt like Zaza might never score again.. until Sunday. Queue social media shock:
Since Simone Zaza last scored in the league:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 19, 2017
Represented Italy at Euro 2016
Joined West Ham
Left West Ham
Joined Valencia pic.twitter.com/AgNgLo4cHe
Lmao Zaza has done more in one game for Valencia than he did in four months for WHU— • (@frdrib30) February 19, 2017
It took five appearances, but Zaza finally made the scoresheet for Valencia, in a crucial win that moves them up to 15th and seven points clear of the relegation zone. Their next game comes at home, against league leaders Real Madrid .
The Italian had to wait a long time to get back amongst the goals, especially for a striker who represented Italy at Euro 2016. How long will Zaza have to wait to get his next goal?