Eamon Zayed
European International Sport

Eamon Zayed: Globe-trotting Irish goal machine

Picture the scene, one of the biggest and most hotly contested derbies on the planet, Persepolis of Tehran versus their fierce rivals Esteghal. 68,000 roaring fans in the Azadi stadium, a magnificent spectacle and a turnaround on the cards. Persepolis were 2 goals down and things were looking fraught.  10 minutes left in the game, it seemed the only hope left was a substitute, a young player from Balinteer, Dublin, Eamon Zayed. Not too many people back home heard what the former Bray Wanderers lad accomplished that day but it was front page news in Tehran.

Only a few minutes after his introduction, Zayed broke through the defence to find himself on the end of a beautiful pass from Mohammed Nouri to shoot home past the Estaghel goalie and revive the contest. Then he scored another. In less than 60 seconds. This time Mehdi Mahdavikia, who you might remember from Hamburg and Eintracht Frankfurt,  crossed perfectly for Zayed to head home. The equaliser was something, but that wasn’t the end of it. 3 minutes into extra time, Zayed recives the ball from Badmaki, beats two players, switches feet and drills it past the Estaghal goalie for his hat-trick and the winner. It’s the small mater of what World Football magazine called the 22nd  most important club match in the game and the biggest in Asia. It’s also just another moment in the fascinating career of an Irish player you may not have heard of.  Zayed was named world player of the week on Goal.com and will forever likely go down as a hero for the fans of Persepolis.  You can see those goals here:

Not bad for a lad arriving on a sixth month contract after his one year contract had run out at Derry City back home, but Zayed’s passport wasn’t quite finished even then.  Stints in Malaysia and (currently) North America, beckoned.

Born in Balinteer, Eamon started out playing schoolboys football all the way back in Sallynoggin, Dublin before spending two years playing for the youth and reserve teams at Leicester City, returning to Dublin after Leicester’s relegation from the English Premiership in 2002.  In 2003, having joined League of Ireland outfit, Bray Wanderers, Zayed scored the club’s fastest ever hat-trick against Dundalk between the 7th and 15th minutes of the game. he followed this by becoming the first ever Bray Wanderers player to net four goals in a game in 2004 against Athlone Town. The league of Ireland is not quite the calibre you find elsewhere in Europe, particularly when it comes to finances. A minority of clubs are full-time professional, many are part-time and contracts rarely manage to stretch past the one year mark. Zayed tole the Irish Mirror in 2014 that while he was at Derry City, team-mates of his took part time jobs in Tesco and the Post Office to make ends meet. Eamon managed to hang on to playing at Wanderers until 2005 when he dusted of his suitcase again, this time for Norwegian Premier League side Aalesunds. It didn’t prove his finest hour, only managing a bit part appearance in a single 4-1 defeat the whole time he was there.

Eamon Zayed
Eamon Zayed at Persepolis

It was with Drogheda United the following season that people began to notice Zayed’s abilities beyond the League of Ireland, scoring five times, three in Drogheda’s Europa League run that season against IK Start, A.C. Libertas and Helingborgs, with the final two scored for Sporting Final against Maritimo. Out comes the suitcase again. Eamonn took up the offer of a trial at South Korean K-League team Incheon United FC but decided on sticking with Sporting Fingal.  in 2010, Zayed looked all set to sign for Al Ahly in the Libyan Premier League, but the league switched the rules late in the day to prevent foreign born Libyan internationals under the ago of 30 from playing in the league.

Which seems an apt time to bring up the fact that Eamon Zayed played for the country of his father, Libya, since 2011. He had turned out for The Republic of Ireland’s Under 21 side, scoring 5 goals in 12 games, and playing in all ties as the 2003 World Youth Championships, but when it came down to it, Eamonn chose Libya over both Ireland and Tunisia.  So far, he’s only netted the once, in a friendly against Equatorial Guinea.

Eamon Zayed
Eamonn Zayed

In 2011, Eamon Zayed finished top scorer back in the League of Ireland again with an impressive 23 goals for Derry City along with the winner in the League Cup final against Cork City, picking up the Player’s Player of the Year award along the way. It was that December that he decided to accept the 6 month contract offer at Persepolis in Tehran, finding himself saddled with the nickname “Mr. Hat Trick” with his performance in the derbybeing followed by Persepolis’ first hat trick in the AFC Champions League and then another against another Tehran rival, Rah Ahan FC. A brief stint over at Aluminium Hormozgan in Bandar Abbas in the South of Iran, followed, with three goals coming in just 10 games, but Eamon was to return again to home shores with Shamrock Rovers and then a loan stint at Sligo Rovers, scoring 6 goals for each in consecutive seasons. This next part highlights the plight of League of Ireland players at all levels, no matter how good you are for your club, it seems like you’ll be brought back to earth with a bang. Zayed was given his P45 by Shamrock Rovers in 2014 and found himself having to sign on social welfare to get by.  He told the Irish Mirror:

“When you go down there, some people recognise you. They’d ask ‘How are things at Rovers?’ but I’d just say ‘Well, not great clearly, I’m down here’. I don’t know if embarrassing is the word but when you play football, you like to think there’s a little bit of prestige.

“You go from playing in front of a few thousand people, people there to support you, and little kids who look up to you, to signing on or getting part-time work. So that absolutely knocked me down to reality, and mentally it can be tough going.”

Eamon Zayed
Eamon Zayed in Indiana

Faced with scraping by or trying his luck abroad again, Eamon accepted an offer from Sabah FC over in the Malaysian Premier League, then managed by ex league of Ireland star George O’Callaghan, where he played 21 games, scoring 11 times alongside former Liverpool star El Hadji Diouf. After a single season it looked like a trip back to the homeland was coming up again but after turning down Zokho from Iraq,  North American Soccer League outfit Indy Eleven based in Indiana, came knocking and things have somewhat caught fire from there. It’s not the MLS, but there is some serious investment there. Ex Milan and Italy legend Paulo Madini owns Miami FC for example, with another ex legend, Alessandro Nesta managing the side, and Raul was playing at the New York Cosmos until last season. Eamon’s introduction was pretty customary. He scored a brace on his debut against the New York Cosmos and then a hat trick in the 4-1 victory against the Carolina Railhawks, allowing them finish 1st on games win from the Cosmos for the Spring half of the season.

Though not the first Irishman to feature in the fledgling American league, ( Richie Ryan of Sligo Rovers fame captained the Ottawa Fury to the title the previous season alongside Colin Falvey), Eamon Zayed seems to have found a corner of the planet that finally suits his game and his abilities, for now.


 

Images courtesy:
Community Health Network

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