December 19, 2012 by Made In Brum
January 2008 saw Alex Mcleish’s first foray into the transfer market as Birmingham City manager. After Steve Bruce’s summer of uninspired signings like Richard Kingson, Stuart Parnaby and Rafael Schmitz, Mcleish splashed out £6.5 million on James McFadden and David Murphy, both of whom became first team regulars for the rest of the season. Big Eck’s third signing of the window was met by Blues fans with a sense of excitement and curiosity, as Mauro Zárate joined the ranks on loan from Qatari side Al-Sadd.
Zárate became something of an enigma at St. Andrews, only making 6 league starts, despite calls from the fans for him to be involved more often. His first appearance as a 66th minute substitute was the only bright spot in a disappointing 2-0 defeat away at Sunderland, but Blues fans had to wait until the 12th March for his first game in the starting lineup. Despite always looking lively when he played, Mcleish tended to favour McFadden in the supporting striker role as the season went on. Zárate’s first Blues goal came in yet another defeat against Reading, which he followed up with an excellent brace in a 3-1 win at home to Manchester City, after which Mcleish declared his interest in making the signing permanent. A 1-1 draw against Everton in the middle of a barren April for the Blues saw Zárate score his fourth and final goal for the Blues, finishing with 14 appearances, with 8 as a substitute.
Blues’ relegation from the Premiership saw any hopes of a permanent transfer vanish, & it turned out to be a case of ‘what if?’, as David Sullivan announced that a deal was in place to bring Zárate in on a long-term basis, on the condition of surviving relegation. Sullivan also revealed plans to bring in Brazillian international Edmilson had Blues managed to stay up, piling further misery on to the fans as they prepared from another season in the Championship.
Born in Haedo, Buenos Aires, the Argentinian striker began his career at local Vélez Sársfield, where he made his first team debut in 2004, aged just 17. He went on to score 28 first team goals in his three seasons at the club before securing his big-money deal to play in the Middle-East. Zárate only actually made 6 appearances for Al-Sadd though, despite the Qatari press reporting his transfer fee to have been around $22million. He left the club after just 6 months to join Blues on loan. After his successful spell in Birmingham, Zárate signed with Lazio on loan for the 2008/09 season, establishing himself as a first team regular and scoring 13 goals. The Italians then made his transfer permanent, and he went on to make a further 67 appearances and scored 12 goals.
However, Zárate found himself at the centre of a media storm in March 2010, as he was photographed making what appeared to be a Fascist salute amongst a crowd of fans during a game against Bari. The right-handed salute is a gesture associated with former Italian leader Benito Mussolini, who was a Lazio fan, and the club has historically been aligned with right-wing extremism. During his time at Lazio, current Swindon Town manager Paolo Di Canio was regularly photographed making the salute, which the media attributed to his upbringing as a member of the ‘Ultras’, Lazio’s extremist supporter group. Zárate claimed that he did not realise the significance of his gesture, and more humorously said that he had never heard of Mussolini or Hitler. The Italian press reacted badly to the incident, and the striker’s relationship with the Lazio board deteriorated, leading to him being sent out on loan to Inter Milan for the 2011/12 season.
Zárate’s move to Inter was arranged with a view to a permanent move, but a contribution of only 2 goals in 22 appearances and a 6th place finish, the club’s lowest in Serie A since 1999, meant that he failed to impress, and returned to Lazio this summer. The Argentine described his year at Inter as “one of the worst years for the club”, as they dropped out of the Champions League at the group stage, and failed to win any silverware.
Under new coach Vladimir Petkovic, Zárate has made 7 appearances for Lazio so far this season, 6 in the Europa League, and although not a regular choice, his improved relationship with the Lazio hierarchy means that he could see more first team football as the season goes on.
Mauro’s tenure at Birmingham is definitely one of ‘what might have been’, as Blues fans are agonisingly left to speculate how different the 2007/08 season would have been had Zárate played more, and indeed how the club would have progressed if the team avoided relegation. Controversy aside, Zárate has forged a decent career for himself, winning the Coppa Italia, as well as appearing in the Champions League, and he could definitely have been a good player for Blues had things been different.
Full Name: Mauro Matías Zárate
Date of Birth: March 18, 1987 (Age 25)
By Gregg Collett