Exiled; benched; banned; reviled. It seems a long time since such words orbited West Ham's Mauro Zarate, with the forward's turn around nothing short of miraculous.
This weekend saw the Argentine score a crucial goal in the Hammers' nail-biting victory over Chelsea - a result that temporarily lifted Slaven Bilic's side up to second in the Premier League. Firing home emphatically after the Blues failed to clear their lines, the 28-year-old ignited rapturous celebrations around the Boleyn Ground.
The goal confirmed that Zarate was back and, against all odds, had somehow resurrected his floundering West Ham career.
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Signing for the Irons on May 28, 2014, Zarate’s tenure started promisingly with an August away win at Crystal Palace, in which he scored a superb volley. A huge decline in form swiftly followed, though, and the Argentine soon found himself a regular on the bench.
Sam Allardyce’s patience eventually grew short and Zarate was loaned out to relegation strugglers Queens Park Rangers in January, for whom the Argentine made only four league appearances.
His frustrated spell in west London was epitomised by the player’s apoplectic reaction to squad exclusion ahead of an away clash with Liverpool, which saw him forced to make his own way back to London. His behaviour was deemed so unacceptable that he was fined two weeks' wages and would never play for the R’s again.
Such a catastrophic end to the season saw Zarate linked with a number of moves away from east London over the summer. However, to everyone’s astonishment, the Argentine remained at West Ham.
Regardless of whether Bilic played a key role in keeping Zarate at the club, it has proven a stroke of genius. In fact, the Croatian manager seems to have galvanized Zarate back into the form that provoked the Hammers to sign him in the first place.
On the opening day of the season, he fired home a long-range strike in a 2-0 win against Arsenal. Albeit amidst a decline in goals, Zarate continued to play superbly before finding the net against Chelsea.
The former Inter Milan forward has proven crucial in West Ham’s incredible form this season that sees them perched in the top four.
Bilic has resurrected a player whose career looked in tatters over the summer and turned him into one of the club’s best players.
Behind all the publicity circling Dimitri Payet, Hammers fans must be equally thankful for their Argentine marksman, who has finally come into his own at the Boleyn Ground.