Thursday 17 January 2019

Eamon high with Libya

Derry's new Dubliner has no regrets after declaring his allegiances to volatile state

A STANDING ovation from 40,000 fans was Libya's welcome to Dubliner Eamon Zayed as a new member of the national team before he even kicked a ball for the side.

Zayed, who has just signed for Derry City after spells with Bray Wanderers, Drogheda United and Sporting Fingal, was born in Dublin and represented his native country, winning nine U20 caps and playing twice for the U21 team (2003-04) alongside current senior internationals such as Kevin Doyle, Keith Fahey, Glenn Whelan and Stephen Kelly.

In fact he formed a handy partnership with then Cork City man Kevin Doyle when Ireland's U20s beat France 1-0 in a warm-up game for the 2003 World Youth Cup finals.

After he won his second and final U21 cap against Scotland in 2004, his Ireland career was over, but he had already been scouted by other countries who noted the surname.

"When I was out in the UAE with Ireland at the World Cup in 2003 I was approached by both Libya and Tunisia to see if I wanted to play for them," he says. "I was eligible for Tunisia as well, my dad was born in Tunisia but he is a Libyan.


"I played for Ireland at youth and U21 level and I'm very proud of those caps but I knew that I'd never get anywhere near the Irish senior squad so when Libya contacted me again last year, I decided to go for it, and did all the formalities with FIFA."

His first call-up to the Libyan squad was last October when he trained for four days ahead of a game with Zambia, and he was promised a debut as sub by Libya's Brazilian-born coach, but his paperwork from FIFA hadn't cleared in time so he had to wait.

"It was still an amazing experience, there were two new players in the squad including me and we were welcomed on the pitch at half-time," Zayed says.

"We had 40,000 people there chanting our names. Coming from Sporting Fingal, it's a big turnaround to have 40,000 fans singing for you.


"There's still a language gap as I don't really speak Arabic. When I was younger my dad sent me and my sister to something like a Sunday school to learn it. I only remember a few words but I got the gist of it."

In November came a friendly with Niger and that's when Zayed got his debut, starting in a 1-1 draw. "I did well given that I hadn't really played in the previous eight weeks, though there wasn't the same buzz as for the previous game; there was only about 10,000 at the match. But it was still a big moment for me, my first senior cap," he said.

The Libyans then named Zayed in a squad for a game with Benin earlier this month, but he pulled out due to a lack of fitness. And since then, chaos has come to the streets of Tripoli.

In a way Zayed is lucky to be where he is today, the relative stability of League of Ireland football on a one-year contract with Derry City.

The 27-year-old was very close to signing very lucrative contracts for clubs in Libya and then Egypt -- two nations since scarred by massive civil unrest.

While on international duty in November he held talks with two Libyan league clubs and agreed to sign for one, but local politics intervened and the move was called off as the two clubs -- one of which was government-backed -- fought over him.

"I also met an agent from Egypt and he said he had clubs from Saudi Arabia and Egypt who were interested in me too," says Zayed. "I went over to Egypt for four days and they offered me an 18-month deal. I decided to go for it but that fell through.

"Then there was an offer from Hibernians in Malta but by then Stephen Kenny had been on to me from Derry so I went with that. I've seen what's gone on in Egypt since then so I think it was the right move in the end."

Zayed admits that he hasn't played to his potential at Fingal in the last 18 months or so, the player unhappy last season at being played out of position on the wing.

So he's determined to make a go of things at the Brandywell. "I wasn't great last season, I know that," he says.

"I didn't enjoy my time at Fingal, I didn't enjoy my football but I know there is more to come from me.

"It was only when I joined up with the Libyan squad at the end of the year that I got my hunger back and now I feel that another year here in Ireland will be good for me.

"At Derry we've had a tough pre-season programme and we've done a lot of work, but I needed that to get myself ready for the new season and I'm really looking forward to the new season, we have Sligo Rovers in our first game and that's a brilliant way to kick off the new year.

"Hopefully I can add a bit of experience to the squad as we have a lot of young players in the squad. Lads like David McDaid and Patrick McEleney are superb players but they're only 18 or 19 so they need a guiding hand for big games against people like Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians."

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