AFS meets Gabriel Zakuani
Africa Football Shop are proud to introduce Gabriel Zakuani , Kalloni FC’s Congolese defender and AFS’s Greek Superleague columnist.
In this opening interview, Gabs talks about his life in Greece, his previous footballing experience in England, with Leyton Orient, Peterborough and Fulham, as well as his international career with the DRC.
Expect to hear a lot more from Zakuani on Africa Football Shop over the coming weeks and months.
AFS: Gabs, great to meet you. We hope that you will use your column to provide us with an exclusive insight into Greek football. You’ve been at Kalloni for over a month now, how have you been finding it? How would you describe the Superleague to those of our readers who perhaps haven’t watched it, or aren’t too familiar with the football? How does it compare to the English leagues in terms of quality and style?
Gabs: It was a challenge at first because I have never played outside England but my first game couldn’t have gone better as I scored and we secured a win. The team hadn’t won in four games and I was happy to help them put a stop to the rot.
The Superleague is very technical and tactical. Maybe not as ‘in your face’ as in England but there are a lot of quality players here, so this makes it a very competitive league.
AFS: Having been involved in the English league pyramid since you broke through with Leyton Orient, was it a big wrench to leave the UK? Why did you choose Greece? What did you know about the country and the league before arriving?
Gabs: It was a wrench to leave the UK and Peterborough because I had been there for nearly six years. I chose Greece because I felt i needed a new challenge and I have played in every league in England and wanted to experience something new.
The Superleague is the top league in Greece, whose national team qualified for the World Cup, so it’s very decent. It was also a good way to stay in contention for my national team with the African Nations coming up.
I knew there were strong teams like Olympiakos and it shows because they’re still in the Champions League. Crete was the first place I ever went on holiday without my parents so that’s as much affiliation as I had with the country.
AFS: What are your favourite things about living in Greece, or specifically, on Lesbos, and what have been the difficulties in adjusting?
Gabs: The weather is obviously a big plus compared to England. I enjoy the food and the people are very friendly and laid back, a bit like myself. Driving on the opposite side of the road took a bit of getting used to, but I am cool now.
I will have to adjust to English roads again though soon.
AFS: How is the African presence in the Greek league? Are there any African players you will be particularly excited to tell us about over the coming months? What is Paul Keita like, the young Senegalese midfielder who plays ahead of you in defensive midfield?
Gabs: There are loads of Africans in the Super League and I have been following their exploits since I arrived. [On Monday] I am actually playing against Henri Camara who played for several clubs in England such as Wigan and Sheffield United, as well as Senegal, so that should be a good battle.
Keita is quality young player who has been at Benfica, so that speaks volumes. He reminds me of [Patrick] Vieira and at just 21 he has a future in the game if he keeps his head straight.
AFS: Can you talk to us about your departure from Peterborough? You are a former club captain and at one time, were considered as part of the fabric of the club—is it hard or is it pleasurable to look back over your five years at London Road?
Gabs: It was a difficult because I had not planned to leave just yet. Circumstances prompted my departure.
I am a professional who is only happy playing and at the age of 27 I couldn’t be sitting around waiting for a game. I had nothing to prove in League 1 and I think I left on a good note because maintaining my professionalism was important to me.
I’m still in contact with most of the boys at the club and interact with all the fans on my social media platforms. I will always be a Posh fan and, who knows, I could be back at London Road in the future. I have nothing but fond memories of my time at Peterborough.
AFS: What did you make of Leyton Orient’s magnificent start to the season and how do you rate their chances of earning an unlikely promotion to the Championship? Having lived in Clapton and spent time at Brisbane Road, I can testify that it is a special club—would you like to return there one day?
Gabs: They started and carried the momentum from the back-end of last season. The manager seems to have got the balance right and has the backing of Barry Hearn and Matt Potter, who is doing an outstanding job. I think they are definitely contenders as they have kept the pace throughout the season.
Look, it’s my boyhood club which gave me my opportunity in professional football. I played for the first team at the age of 16. Nothing but good memories and, if Fulham didn’t come in for me, I might still have been there. Fulham paid over a million pounds for me and it was my way of paying the club back for the chance I was given.
Football is a strange business with a lot of surprises you shouldn’t be surprised if you saw me don the red of Orient once again.
AFS: Your brother Steve plays for Portland Timbers in the MLS and has built a good career over in the States, is this something that appeals to you?
Gabs: I have to applaud Steve for the career he has built for himself in the States. I couldn’t believe how big of a star he was over there when I visited a few years ago. He has made a move to Portland now and is over his injury. I am expecting great things from him this season which he is well capable of.
Maybe later on in my career I will consider the MLS as I don’t want to overshadow the Steve (Zakuani) name over there. I will let him shine there for a bit longer!
AFS: Finally, talk to us a little about your experiences with the DRC national side. You were born in Kinshasa and made your debut in 2005, however, it’s perhaps fair to say that your international career has been a little stop-start since then. How was it to play at the 2013 AFCON and how do you see your future with the Leopards?
Gabs: I think I need to clarify the situation with regards to the perceived stop-start look on my international CV.
I made my debut in 2005 against Guinea whilst still at Orient. I played in 2008 against Togo in France. I was involved in the World Cup qualifiers for the 2010 in South Africa in 2012 down to the last game against Malawi. I played in the friendlies before the AFCON and also played in the tournament.
Maybe it’s not as stop-start as it has been made out in the media.