In Zamora's final season at West Ham, in 2007-08, a staggering 78 percent of his attempts to score failed to hit the target. Last season for Fulham he got that figure down to 65 percent -- but since Zamora scored only four goals in 41 appearances, the refrain could be reprised endlessly by fans home and away.
Now, almost every weekend brings a rousing chorus of "Bobby for England" from fans who growled at the Fulham striker's refusal to be sold to Hull City last summer. An increasing number of people inside and outside of Craven Cottage are calling for Zamora's inclusion in Fabio Capello's World Cup squad, and hardly anyone is blowing raspberries in response. Capello himself is scouting Zamora in every remaining game of the season, so a call-up, at least for England's May 24 friendly against Mexico, looks to be in the cards.
What on earth has happened?
First, these are not just the frantic chatterings of a nation clamoring to see lumbering incumbent Emile Heskey officially written off as obsolete, though that would be a felicitous byproduct of Zamora's inclusion in Capello's plans. There are signs of genuine development -- even transformation -- in Zamora that press his international claims with just as much urgency as any dissatisfaction with Heskey.
Zamora's form should not necessarily be written off as an average player hitting a run of good fortune. Eight goals in his last 15 appearances might look streaky, but it is the nature and timing of those goals that is crucial. Early goals gave Fulham head starts against Sunderland and Portsmouth, while a last-minute strike won the home match against Birmingham. Zamora's goals have earned Fulham seven of its 42 points this season, and the delicately measured flight of the free kick that beat Birmingham goalkeeper Joe Hart, crafted under the pressure of the looming final whistle, requires a level of composure improbable in a lucky clogger.
Even less likely is that he could have so deftly orchestrated Fulham's progression to next week's Europa League semifinal meeting with Hamburg on a fluke. Zamora's goals took Fulham past FC Basel and holders Shakhtar Donetsk, and his quick reply to David Trezeguet's early goal sparked its impressive revival against Juventus. His lightning-fast goal, 21 seconds into the quarterfinal second leg against Wolfsburg, brutally winded the Germans. It wasn't a bad Cruyff turn either. Zamora's contribution this season has included good goals, scored at key times, against notable opponents. And that fact that isn't lost on Fulham manager Roy Hodgson, who has also championed Zamora's cause for an international call-up.
"The thing about Bobby now is that he is not just scoring goals against anyone," Hodgson told the Daily Telegraph. "He is doing it against international class opponents. ... It would be unfair for people to say he only does it in the Premier League and that he doesn't have the ability to take a step further."
"Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings," English literary sage Samuel Johnson once said. Perhaps he had more noble endeavors in mind, but his wisdom holds in this case regardless. Zamora has always been known for his ability to hold the ball up and test the poise of defenders. Last season, Hodgson recognized his value to the team in providing opportunities for others. But Zamora's erratic shooting, which only fostered greater hesitancy in front of goal (and a habit of disappearing in high-tempo games), drained fans' belief in the striker -- as well as testing his own faith. Scoring goals right from the get-go this season appears to have bolstered Zamora's conviction and lifted his game immeasurably, adding instinct and consistency to his vision and discipline as a forward. He has matched last season's six assists already, and added an extra 15 goals on top of that.
Had Zamora made public his desire to emulate Ruud van Nistelrooy a couple of seasons ago, he would have been drowned out by the resulting guffaws. It is still not a viable comparison, but Zamora is ticking more boxes than he has before at this level. If the point of picking Heskey on the international stage is as a target man for Wayne Rooney to feed off, the Fulham man's chances should certainly be elevated. Heskey might offer an ominous physical presence, but sadly, his shooting ability is meek in comparison. Zamora is outperforming both Heskey and West Ham's Carlton Cole, and seems a better foil for Rooney than would a faster alternative such as Sunderland's Darren Bent.
The calls for Zamora to at least be meaningfully considered for an England place are, on these grounds, by no means misplaced. But there are certainly notes of caution to be struck before we all get carried away. Hodgson, having rescued Fulham from relegation from the Premier League on his arrival, is very visibly the architect of improvements in almost every position, in which you will invariably find a player written off by other clubs. In its success, his Fulham side has been greater than the sum of its parts.
Hodgson directs proceedings from the technical area like a conductor at his stand, baton tracing movements up and down and across the pitch. Organized and industrious, each player understands his role in harmonizing Fulham's sound, linking the players behind him to the players in front of him. None has the temerity to attempt much beyond their designated tasks.
In this system, Zamora's combination of muscle, touch and hunger has thrived, but that is far from a guarantee that he can do the same for England. For all of Heskey's lumpen dysfunction in domestic football, Capello is aware that Heskey has proved to aid Rooney's strike rate on the international stage. But if confidence is the vital ingredient to Zamora's success this season, imagine the spice a phone call asking him to cancel his summer holidays would add.
Jozy Altidore looked lively once again last Saturday, providing an assist on a cross from the right wing for the opening goal, but Hull City lost 4-1 to fellow relegation candidate Burnley. ... Wolves' Marcus Hahnemann kept another clean sheet in a scoreless draw at home against Stoke on Sunday. ... Brad Friedel endured another difficult day against Chelsea's forwards as Aston Villa lost 3-0 on Saturday in a FA Cup semifinal meeting. ... Jonathan Spector picked up his first yellow card this season but won't care one bit after West Ham beat Sunderland 1-0 on Saturday.