State of Play: High time more home birds took flight

Eamon Zayed is surprised more players don’t try their luck overseas

Eamon Zayed: “When I decided I wanted to go, I got in touch with numerous agents abroad. One in 10 might get back to you with something positive, but you only need one.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Eamon Zayed: “When I decided I wanted to go, I got in touch with numerous agents abroad. One in 10 might get back to you with something positive, but you only need one.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

For people who don’t know me, I have a multi-cultural background so you might say that I am better equipped than most to travel. However, it is the beautiful game of football that has been my actual ticket to ride.

The game has been great to me and thanks to spells with clubs in Iran, Malaysia and now the United States – as well as my involvement with the Libyan national team – I’ve seen a plenty of the world. If you ask me, I think it’s a pity that more players don’t take the opportunity.

I had numerous motivations for moving abroad in order to play, one of which was obvious; financial. I genuinely adore playing football and loved playing in the League of Ireland for years. With finance in the LOI at a minimum, I wanted to have something more tangible than good memories and accolades to show for it when time was called.

I remember when I was up in Derry in 2011 speaking to the late Mark Farren, a legend of the League of Ireland, who had already been ill. Here was a top, top player, a former Player of the Year, who had a fantastic career. However, he said to me that for all the medals and accolades he won, financially playing in Ireland for the duration of his career would not pay for things like mortgages and car repayments and more importantly, surgery and rehab.

His was a terribly tragic example but there were lots of others. Guys who were retiring after excellent careers in Ireland, some of them with titles to their name and the medals to go with it, but very little else to show for their success. With that being said, I set myself the target of getting together the deposit on a house in Dublin, so when I retired from football I would have something tangible to show for it other than trophies.

I never thought I’d play football in Iran but when the opportunity arose I saw that both the football and the pay were good and jumped at it. Playing in Asia and Malaysia was something I really wanted to do for reasons such as finance, culture and travel. America is something else altogether. I’ve always wanted to play and live here. Culturally, it’s far less challenging to come and settle into but it is interesting and the game, like the lifestyle, is good. Furthermore, it offers interesting possibilities for the future.

Being a foreign a player in a team brings its pressures. You have to perform or you’ll be out of there before you know it.

In every case, there is that little bit more pressure to deliver, although the scale of the expectations do vary. In Malaysia they think a foreign striker should be scoring a goal a game. In Indianapolis it is not quite so extreme, but clubs here can sign just seven overseas players so those slots are precious and there is a natural inclination to go for South Americans.

Positive environment

It’s a positive environment but a Libyan international from Dublin still has to do something to justify his place on the payroll.

Last season I did that comfortably enough. My goals helped the club to the Championship Game, I won our club’s player of the year, was up for the league’s MVP and I made the league’s team of the year. Every first season is a particular challenge, though. You are trying to settle into a new city, country, club and you are almost certainly on an initial one-year deal. So you are trying to do well enough to have the option of extending your stay. It provides a focus players don’t always have if they stay in the same place for long stretches of their career.

This season has not started as well as I would have liked. I’ve picked up a succession of minor injuries and the team is not doing so well so the pressure is on. Inevitably, it’s like that. When it’s good, it’s great, they love you. I learned that in Tehran, when I scored a hat-trick in a big derby, but when times get tougher it’s only natural that there isn’t quite the same tolerance that supporters tend to show towards players they regard as one of their own.

I still keep a close eye on the league back home and realise there are a hundred perfectly good reasons why people decide to stay and play, but I am still surprised that a few more lads aren’t prepared to take a chance and try their luck overseas.

In America, there are a few of us playing who have played in the League of Ireland. There’s my team-mate here at Indy, Colin Falvey. There’s Richie Ryan at Miami FC, playing under Allesandro Nesta, not to mention James Chambers, Sean Russell, Shane McEleney and Jake Keegan, all of whom made jumps from the LOI.

In other countries we’ve seen Cillian Sheridan, Roy O’Donovan and Damien Duff all fly off to different cultures.

I think it’s a slightly self-perpetuating thing, the lack of a tradition of players going anywhere other than Britain means that clubs further afield don’t look to Ireland for talent. In that case, I emphasise to players that it’s you who has to take the that first step. Put together a highlights package and put yourself out there.

When I decided I wanted to go, I got in touch with numerous agents abroad. One in 10 might get back to you with something positive, but you only need one!

And you never know, you may just find yourself in a home away from home doing what you love to do every day. Play football.

Eamon Zayed plays for Indy Eleven in the NASL. Previously, he has played for clubs in Ireland, Norway, Iran and Malaysia. He has also represented Libya at senior international level.

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