Coaching has completed at West Ham’s base in Rush Inexperienced, Romford and Kurt Zouma, with a smile befitting a person whose center identify is Blissful, is strolling to the prayer room.
Nayef Aguerd and Stated Benrahma, the membership’s different two first-team gamers of Muslim religion, are with him. They’re now not of their filthy coaching gear. They’ve carried out the purification ritual often known as Wudu in preparation for his or her appointment with the Almighty.
They kneel in direction of the Qibla, the path of Mecca, and start to wish. Footballers spend their lives within the public area, however that is Zouma’s personal second between him and his maker. Fifteen minutes later, he leaves that room feeling nearer to God.
A person of religion, the 28-year-old Frenchman does this 5 instances a day, and additionally, you will discover him praying earlier than each look for West Ham. He prays for cover from damage. He prays for a superb recreation. He prays for the security and delight of all people contained in the stadium — even those that refuse to let him escape his controversies of the previous.
That, in fact, refers to February 7, 2022 — the day footage emerged displaying him kicking and slapping his pet cat, filmed by his youthful brother, Yoan. I attended David Moyes’ first press convention within the aftermath. West Ham’s supervisor fielded no fewer than 20 questions on Zouma, together with why he deliberate to proceed enjoying him. ‘I do know precisely the place my ethical compass is,’ Moyes stated. ‘It’s not so that you can be the decide. It’s for the legislation to be the decide.’
Kurt Zouma will proceed to fulfil the position of West Ham’s first-team captain for the rest of the season
Hammers boss David Moyes (pictured) has backed Zouma in his position as captain
Kurt Zouma was pressured to apologise final yr after a video of him kicking his cat went viral in February
The legislation, on this case Thames Magistrates’ Court docket, sentenced Zouma to 180 hours of group service whereas he was additionally banned from preserving cats for 5 years and ordered to cowl the RSPCA’s £8,887.03 authorized prices. Neither the Ministry of Justice nor those that know Zouma will say if his group service included the normal punishment of scrubbing graffiti from the streets of London. They are going to solely expose that he has accomplished his 180 hours and it took a bodily toll as he juggled coaching within the morning with ‘payback’ shifts within the night.
West Ham fined Zouma two weeks’ wages price £250,000, all of which has since been donated to 9 completely different animal welfare charities, though the RSPCA weren’t one of many recipients. Adidas dropped him as an envoy — he has since signed as a TRU athlete — and corporations equivalent to Expertise Kissimmee stopped sponsoring the membership.
Zouma stated sorry to his team-mates. They accepted his apology and so did Moyes, sensing he was genuinely remorseful.
His team-mates have been as shocked as anybody. Zouma, their mild 6ft 3in big, was the final particular person they anticipated to search out within the eye of a storm.
Those that know Zouma say he’s a person of religion, of enjoyable, of household. He’s a loving husband to Sandra and a faithful father to son Kais and daughters Sihame and Sanaa.
It’s understood they don’t have any pets at their London residence and haven’t had any since their cats have been repossessed by the RSPCA, although they’ve welcomed a brand new addition to the family — a child boy who arrived a month after West Ham’s Europa Convention League triumph and whose identify they don’t but need to reveal.
Selecting the right identify may be difficult for any dad or mum. Zouma’s father, Man, selected ‘Kurt’ due to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s 1989 movie Kickboxer by which the muscular protagonist ‘Kurt Sloane’ masters the traditional artwork of Muay Thai to be able to avenge his brother Eric.
That hyperlink was considerably soured final yr when Van Damme was encouraging his tens of hundreds of thousands of followers on social media to signal a petition demanding Zouma face ‘robust and acceptable’ motion from the French Soccer Federation. Nonetheless, very like ‘The Muscular tissues from Brussels’ in that cult basic, the budding footballer was decided to succeed for his household’s sake.
Moyes (left) fielded no fewer than 20 questions on Zouma (proper) on the time of the incident as he determined to proceed enjoying the defender
Zouma (center) stays a popular and revered member of the West Ham dressing room
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One in every of seven siblings, he needed to assist them transfer out of their congested flat in Lyon. He joined Vaulx-en-Velin on the age of 9 earlier than leaving for Saint-Etienne, enjoying with solely No 33 on the again of his shirt. That is widespread in French soccer, as kids need to earn the addition of their identify. Zouma quickly did, signing professionally at 16.
He was the primary in his household to win a contract in soccer, later adopted by his older brother Lionel and Yoan. That they had a disciplined upbringing below Man, who immigrated from the Central African Republic and was as soon as quoted as saying: ‘I gave them an African schooling. They went to high school after which to coaching. After they returned, they have been too drained to do something silly.’
Zouma had a disciplined upbringing below his father
Zouma can’t escape the stupidity of his exploits in later life, nor the idiocy of permitting his brother to movie the footage and apply it to social media. To this present day, you can see cat emojis within the feedback of each image he posts on-line, and his final look at Luton’s Kenilworth Street noticed him taunted by the house help earlier than he scored and cupped his ears in celebration.
In preparation for this piece, I spoke with Moyes at Rush Inexperienced. The subject was Zouma and, as Man hoped when touchdown on the identify ‘Kurt’ in 1994, the primary attribute talked about by his supervisor was that he’s a ‘robust chief’.
There’s a saying from Abu Hurayra, a companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, which reads: ‘When God stated, “I take a look at solely these I really like” I took the ache prefer it was an honour.’
It’s identified by many within the Muslim group together with the Zouma household, although it’s solely coincidental that in Arabic, the identify Abu Hurayra means ‘Father of the Kittens’ with historic legend telling how he all the time had a cat for firm.
Zouma realises he introduced his specific ache upon himself. These near the defender say he hopes folks realise he made a mistake, discovered his lesson and paid the worth. But regardless of how exhausting any of us might pray, public forgiveness takes time.
West Ham have forgiven him. Greater than 18 months on from that shameful saga, he has been sporting the captain’s armband. Moyes insisted he would determine on Declan Rice’s full-time successor through the worldwide break and, yesterday, it was confirmed — Zouma is his man.
Zouma apologised for his actions on the time and was fined him two weeks’ wages price £250,000 by West Ham together with being sentenced to 180 hours of group service and was additionally banned from preserving cats for 5 years and ordered to cowl the RSPCA’s £8,887.03 authorized prices
Zouma continues to be mocked by some opposition supporters over the cat-kicking incident
The RSPCA prosecuted Zouma (proper) and his youthful brother Yoan (left) over the video
‘Numerous folks make errors in life and typically you want folks to forgive you,’ Moyes stated at his pre-Manchester Metropolis press convention. ‘If there have been no forgiveness, then various us wouldn’t be within the jobs or positions we’re in. What I noticed was a whole blip in what I see within the man on daily basis.’
The membership’s proprietor David Sullivan has given Zouma his vote of confidence additionally, telling Mail Sport: ‘He loves West Ham United, our staff and our gamers. He’s a pure chief and a implausible captain.’
Moyes consulted with colleagues about his concept to call Zouma as skipper forward of James Ward-Prowse. In different phrases, would there be a backlash? There had not been one throughout Zouma’s unbeaten four-game stint which took West Ham to fourth within the Premier League. Now that it has been confirmed, the membership haven’t made a track and dance of the appointment, simply in case.
Jose Mourinho as soon as stated Zouma had the potential to succeed John Terry as Chelsea captain and he is a well-liked alternative among the many West Ham gamers. They might poke enjoyable at his penchant for anime — team-mates have even integrated Dragon Ball Z references into earlier purpose celebrations in a nod to his enthusiasm — however it’s all in good enjoyable.
Two weeks in the past, West Ham’s squad performed a recreation the place they named who they might need to be stranded with on a desert island. Zouma was a daily nominee, with Benrahma and Jarrod Bowen amongst these naming him. Aguerd responded by shouting ‘ZOUUU’ — the favorite cry of West Ham followers each time he does one thing spectacular on the sector.
Zouma and Aguerd are inseparable at Rush Inexperienced. Aguerd was one of many French audio system who was helped to really feel at house in London by Zouma when he arrived from Rennes final yr. The identical went for Maxwel Cornet and Alphonse Areola, with whom Zouma gained the Below 20 World Cup in 2013.
As Sullivan says, Zouma loves West Ham they usually love him. Zouma signed from Chelsea for £29.8million in 2021 and his contract is up in 2025, although given his significance to the staff, naturally they want to tie him all the way down to an extended deal.
He’s already amongst their best-paid gamers, on £125,000 per week, so any pay-rise wouldn’t be important. Nonetheless, Zouma is known to really feel grateful for the membership’s help during the last year-and-a-half and be open to negotiations.
Zouma joined West Ham from Chelsea two years in the past and the membership need to tie him all the way down to an extended deal than his present one which expires in 2025
Zouma (again left) and his spouse Sandra (proper) pose for an image with their youngsters
Whether or not France has forgiven him is one other matter. Zouma was omitted of Didier Deschamps’ newest squad. His final look for Les Bleus was in November 2021, a World Cup-qualifying win over Finland which occurred earlier than you-know-what. He by no means made it to Qatar 2022, with Deschamps describing his actions as ‘stunning and insupportable’, and continues to be absent.
‘We aren’t utterly certain,’ says Vincent Duluc, one in every of France’s most revered soccer writers from the newspaper L’Equipe, when requested why. ‘However we expect the principle cause continues to be Catgate.
‘And the competitors, in fact — a man like William Saliba, who’s a greater defender, wasn’t even a starter (in opposition to Eire final week) although Ibrahima Konate is injured. However he’s now not a preferred determine as we’re a cat nation. He didn’t make the headlines in France when West Ham gained the Convention League.’
We can’t say rival followers have forgiven him, both. Luton’s Kenilworth Street is amongst English soccer’s tightest grounds and within the warm-up, one supporter leaned over the promoting hoardings. Filming the passing drill on his cell phone, he shouted: ‘Zouma, you’ve bought to kick it prefer it’s a cat.’ He didn’t get a response.
Zouma was booed on the ball through the recreation and subjected to chants of ‘that’s how your cat felt’ whereas receiving therapy for a head damage.
But the abuse aimed toward Zouma had been slowly however certainly disappearing in any other case. Jeers at the moment are drowned out by West Ham’s supporters shouting ‘ZOUUU’, which some gamers additionally yelled when he returned to the dressing room after being named man of the match at Luton.
Zouma’s two Bengal cats have been put into RSPCA care after the incident
Zouma was omitted of France’s newest squad by Didier Deschamps along with his final look for Les Bleus coming in November 2021
He and Sandra put aside time to reply the lots of of handwritten fan mail they obtain month-to-month, a few of that are thanks letters.
Mail Sport has discovered they’re concerned in charity work worldwide — such because the ALFATH centre for deaf and exhausting of listening to youngsters in Meknes, Morocco, and an orphanage referred to as La Cite De L’Enfance (The Metropolis of Childhood) in Setif, Algeria, and the renovation of a college in Bouar, Central African Republic, amongst others — although these initiatives are largely saved personal.
There’s the aspect to this footballer which we don’t see and the aspect which, for a lot of, can’t be unseen.
You’ll be able to determine for your self whether or not Zouma is worthy of forgiveness — a superb man or a foul bloke, a person who made a mistake or a convicted legal, a becoming captain or, as has been thrown at him since February of final yr, a ‘cat-kicker’. You’ll be able to let him know the following time West Ham go to your membership, the place he can be main the staff out of the tunnel.
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