We see patches of blue sky in London at the moment, under which Kurt Zouma shines like the quality defender that he is. It is a different landscape than the storm that engulfed it a little over a year ago. Today, at West Ham, we hardly remember the turmoil in which the child of Saint-Étienne found himself.
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It was a difficult time for me and my family," Zouma told the Evening Standard last weekend. A period surely less painful for him than for the victim: a simple cat, hit several times by the player at his home, attests to a video broadcast on social networks on February 7, 2022.
Sentenced to 180 hours of community service
Is this the only time Kurt Zouma, hilarious with his brother, has abused an animal? His lengthy message of apology the next day did not cover up the affair. PETA had requested his removal from the France team, whose jersey he was still wearing in November 2021. "Inadmissible and intolerable," said Didier Deschamps, who pretended "a choice "sporting" as to his non-convocation a month later.
Zouma was then a pariah in England, booed by the fans, opposing or West Ham, at every game. Newcastle striker Chris Wood unsettled him on the pitch by imitating meows. The 28-year-old Frenchman was removed from custody of his two cats and sentenced to 180 hours of community service on May 24.
Zouma never disappointed at West Ham
An unpleasant past, but a past. "I made a mistake, a big mistake," Zouma admitted in recent days. I have to apologize again for what I did, but you have to know how to move on in life." On the field, this young father of three children (5, 7 and 9 years old) did it brilliantly. He is essential at West Ham, who had broken his piggy bank (€35 million) in the summer of 2021 for this defender in check at Chelsea. The Hammers owe him in part their stay in the Premier League this season.
In fact, Zouma never really disappointed in London. "He didn't have a break-in or adaptation period," read West Ham's fanzine Blowing Bubbles in April 2022. Without the episode of animal abuse that tarnished his image, "Zouma would most likely be in the running for the title of player of the year," wrote the magazine which wondered: "Will the boos stop one day?" The answer is yes.
There's something about Kurt that makes you look fairer when he plays.
West Ham manager David Moyes in March 2023.
By dint of self-sacrifice, solid performances and a good character without deviation for more than a year, Zouma has turned public opinion. The coach, David Moyes, never withdrew his confidence, even though he had also criticized him for his act of violence. "There's something about Kurt that makes you look fairer when he plays," the Scotland manager said in early March. The supporters validate. They now chant his name, and without mockery. "It means a lot to me," Zouma said. I want to give them back by winning a trophy.»
Hammers manager David Moyes never let Kurt Zouma down. PAUL CHILDS / PANORAMIC
Finally bring back a title to West Ham
The Frenchman speaks, without naming it, of the Conference Europa League, where Zouma only started playing after the group stage, once West Ham realised there was a shot to be played. He was left to rest on the bench on the last day of the championship to keep it fresh for Wednesday. West Ham will take on Fiorentina at the Eden Arena in Prague (Czech Republic). This is not trivial, as the trophy cabinet has been gathering dust for decades.
The Hammers have never been champions of England. They haven't lifted the cup in the country since 1980. It is a poor relation of the capital, whose only European title, in the Cup Winners' Cup, dates back to prehistoric times (1965). In Zouma, but also in the goalkeeper and 2018 world champion Alphonse Areola, or the very courted midfielder Declan Rice, there is this desire to make the fans happy. That's good, Kurt Zouma's middle name is "Happy".