“I’m breathing . . . Are you breathing too? . . . It’s nice, isn’t it? It isn’t difficult to keep alive, friends just don’t make trouble or if you must make trouble, make the sort of trouble that’s expected. Well, I don’t need to tell you that. Good night. If we should bump into one another, recognise me” Robert Bolt – A Man For All Seasons

As West Ham make turn into the final straight before the chequered flag of a season that many would wish to forget, the question murmured along the rows of seated cheers and woes is, “Who is our Hammer Of The Year?”

It would be bullish to chop and change direction with every passing game, each high and low performance and for every result that giveth pain or joy. However, since Moyes has arrived, many of our able protagonists have rallied together and risen to hold their heads high within our royal court.

Under Slaven Bilic, many players lost form at the same time and most lost confidence along the way. Unfortunately he was unable to make the crucial decisions that would see players rested and counselled, much less replaced by improving understudies. The whole club became restless and frustrated, the fans were angered and bewildered, the manager and players looked like dust devils on a barren landscape…headless, directionless and motionless.

The Henrys of our court launched to severe ties with a noble man and in his place came another to calm the waters and dull the sharpened blades. The players responded to the Englishman’s reformation and collectively saw purpose in their last chance to prove themselves and prove this management choice would quell the naysayers from the church of Popes to the thrones of Kings.

During the turbulent times of last year the fans called for a right back of note, to cease imposters portance and bring about change of lasting endeavour. The position was filled by the ungainly and the absurd whilst the youth were tried, tested and sent back to the block, forced to kneel and aspirations lopped off by wielded axe.

The season ended with so many deficiencies in virtually every position. Whilst the central midfield vacuum would remain without air to breathe, the right back bay was filled by a titan…reversing onto lower branches from tree tops once sat upon proud. Pablo Zabaleta arrived at the tail end of May…and cometh the start of the season…cometh the man.

Many would think that at 32 he would be looking for easy passage with high reward until his boots would be hung high and out of reach. However, no sooner had the first whistle blew that we saw a man of industry, a player of passion and a titanic talent that would not go quietly into his twilight before the long night.

Of course, in early games there were numerous mistakes and still there are forward positions yet exploited and defensive postures less guarded, however overall this season, he has been the consistent player in the pack of under achievers. Even before Moyes arrived to raise the hopes by pulling on their bootstraps, Zabaleta was the man who would shed away his senior years thus lending youthful spirits and sprints with a splash of coming of age naivety.

Many would look back in anger at our year of frailties and abject displays but few would rest to consider what irked these fine fellows. Confidence was at an all time low, all within the camp were as frustrated as adolescent prawn yearning to swim with mighty sharks and the bacterium had taken hold…the infection was rife.

The resurgence under Moyes has given weight to many a contender for this year’s throne…Noble, Arnautovic, Collins, Ogbonna…but I would favour closer inspection during the dark days where all was not well but there were architects at work who crafted designs upon unsound foundations.

West Ham were in dire need of a player whom we could rely upon to deliver a solid performance, game after game. We needed a man who could bring energy to a wilted crop of talent, whom would not be the voice of shouting cries but the quiet man of endeavour, purpose and desire. Zabaleta has fulfilled that obligation and merits my appreciation for a season long display that has succeeded where others had failed, and which has warmed the coldest of hearts and brought order to the most insane minds.

He filled the void where experience and talent was needed and welcomed, albeit the passage of time may thwart his perpetual ability to dash down the line or retreat to cover. In numerous games he came under increasing pressure and criticism when he would be caught out of position, would lunge in at inopportune moments or would be left standing whilst opponents raced by. However, one should not only look at the individual spires and woes but more so look at the context in which they are made.

All players are subject to occasional error, some are forced upon them whilst covering other deficients, some are covered over by supporting men…and others glare in the eye where others fail to hide and instigators have little defence. However on the balance of changing seasons and the passage of many plays, Zabaleta has kept his head high above water and out of the executioner’s daily dreams.

Sir Thomas More pushed back against Henry VIII’s desires to change brides and forge distance from Papal decree…the elder statesman campaigned against change that many would claim heresy on a king of less noble intent. A monarch to cut ties of Spanish words to fill the halls of Boleyn’s Castle who would have serial itchy feet to feather new beds and lop off heads.

Zabaleta has resisted the temptation to rest on career highs, has pushed against those whom would fall out of favour with the kings by leading the line with purpose and honour. At a moment when youthful talents lag behind seasoned gents…he raises the bar, he holds his position and has proven to be a man for all of this year’s seasons…this is Pablo’s year and this is his story.


Jon Pope

By Jon Pope

Use to sit in the BML for 10 years, been a West Ham fan all my life, and my great grandfather was a founder member of the TIW. I also help run the Hammer Chat website.

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