The boy Zayed says goodbye Iran and maybe hello Dubai
The Dublin-born Libya international is ready to continue on his colourful travels, writes EMMET MALONE, Soccer Correspondent
The downturn might have cost Dubai some of its allure for those Irish who liked its year-round sun and second-home potential but as he considers his next move in football, Eamon Zayed reckons the place still has a fair bit going for it.
The hard times here have been particularly tough on all connected with Irish football, and so, while he has had offers from several of the country’s leading clubs, the Dubliner is wary of falling back into a cycle of five-parts playing professionally to one-part signing on.
Having had to spend time on the dole after his deal at Derry City ran out in 2011, he set about exploring opportunities abroad. Famously, he ended up in Tehran, playing in front of crowds of between 10,000 and 100,000, and came to be known as “Mr Hat-Trick”.
His first treble came in the Tehran derby for Persepolis against Esteghlal in only his second game for the club. Coming on as a substitute with his team down to 10 men and losing 2-0, his three-goal salvo secured a dramatic 3-2 victory.
Further trebles followed against Al-Shabab in the AFC Champions League – the first by a Persepolis player in the competition – and against Rah Ahan in the domestic league.
Now he wants to sign for Dubai Sports Club although, as of yesterday, nothing had been tied up and there remains the slight possibility of complications relating to his release, agreed last month, from Persepolis.
“It’s 99 per cent resolved and I’m happy we’ve parted company on good terms because I might end up back there some day but I’m just waiting for the Iranian FA to sign off on the deal,” he explains.
“What’s on the table from Dubai is a six-month contract with an option to extend . . . although they’re the ones with the option so it’s really just a six-month contract.”
He enjoyed Iran, he says, but the sanctions and deteriorating exchange rate changed the economic situation for clubs, and when his wages stopped coming he decided it was time to go. The attraction of a spell in the Emirates is simple: “The standard of living is much higher than in Iran and the weather is better.”
There have also been offers from the United States (San Antonio), Iran and one or two elsewhere. Having had spells previously in the likes of South Korea, Azerbaijan and Libya (for whom he has played at senior international level, having qualified through his father), he’s getting pretty good at weighing up what is put before him.
Sometimes, he points out, matters are complicated by considerations that have nothing to do with money.
“I went to Libya just after the spell at Sporting Fingal (late 2010), which I really hadn’t enjoyed,” he recalls, “and when I heard the deal they were offering, I just thought ‘Wow!’. It was a frightening amount of money after what I had been on back here.
“Actually I spoke to two clubs over there. One was effectively the government team and the other was like the people’s team. I spoke to the government team’s people first and I couldn’t believe what they were offering me for six months.
“I would have signed there and then but they were saying they’d put me up in a hotel and I sort of wanted to stay in this compound for expats because I reckoned there’d be people to talk to. They said they weren’t sure whether there were any places but they’d check and come back to me on it.
“That night I was supposed to meet with the people’s team people and just out of politeness I decided I’d go along, even though I was going to sign for the other lot.
“But then they offered a better deal . . . a much better deal . . . and they said I could live anywhere I liked.
“The president said if they couldn’t get me into the compound I could live in his villa; it was unbelievable stuff so I signed for them.
“Then two days later they call to say there’s a problem. It turned out one of the Gadafys was over the other club and the association, or whatever, so suddenly, there’s this rule that a Libyan international under 30 who has played abroad can’t sign for a club in Libya. It was complete nonsense but there was nothing anyone could do.”
Iran started badly, too, with Zayed not appreciating that a club president might sign a player without communicating the news to an unhappy manager.
“I showed up for my first day of training and the manager came over and asked who I was.
“I said I was the player who had just signed and, to rub salt in the wounds, he asked what position I played.
“I was standing there thinking: ‘Oh my God, this can’t be happening.’ But my agent was there too and he has this thing on his iPhone, a video about eight minutes long of me scoring goals for Drogheda United, so he started showing the manager, but he didn’t really look interested at all and after about a minute and a half he just gave up, walked off and said he’d have a look at me in training.
“The coach then carried on as if he wasn’t there, until, he says, “the president basically said to him: ‘Look, I’ve signed this guy and I want you to give him a chance’.”
Luckily for Zayed it was a couple of weeks before the big Tehran derby and, after that subsequent hat-trick, things began to change pretty quickly.
“There was something like 80,000 people there, and celebrating the goal was fantastic. You’re not going to have a feeling like that anywhere else in football unless you’re playing for Barcelona or someone like that.
“Anyway, the next day a few of the other players came up and spoke to me; I’d been there a while at this stage and these were guys I hadn’t previously thought spoke English. I was thinking: ‘Hang on, where did that come from?’
“From there on, things were a lot better. I like Iran, the people are really friendly, but I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if I hadn’t scored those goals and the other hat-tricks.”
His agent’s iPhone footage must certainly have benefited from the addition of the Iranian goals, and Zayed is keen to capitalise. A move to the US has its attractions, he says, but he is not sure about the timing.
“They’re sort of selling it to me either as a stepping stone to the MLS or the opportunity to get my green card and look at the next phase of my life.
“It appeals to me, all right, but I’m 29, I like playing football, I think I’m playing fairly well, I’m scoring goals and these are supposed to be the best years of my career, so I want to keep playing, to focus on that as much as possible.
“Maybe if I was 32 or something I’d be thinking in terms of doing something else.”
He did consider other options in the wake of getting a degree and master’s in finance while at Fingal that would have qualified him for a career in financial control. It didn’t take long for him to realise, however, that it just wasn’t for him at that stage.
“I did this one interview for what you’d call a proper job,” he says, getting slightly anxious at the mere thought of it.
“Now, I’ve played in front of 80,000 people and this interview was with three, but I’ve never frozen the way I did that day. I just sat there in my suit, sweating like mad, thinking: ‘Get me out of here.’
“Eventually, I got out of the room and decided I was going to keep playing football.”
If his next move works out well and his international clearance finally gets sorted so that he can play competitive games for Libya – so far he has been endlessly frustrated by administrative problems that have limited him to a handful of friendlies – then he could be heading into the most exciting few years of his career.
Even if things don’t get much more exciting, they seem fairly certain to continue being pretty interesting.