World Cup 2018: Why star pundit Zabaleta is loving his Russia experience
West Ham United’s presence at the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals is far from limited to just Chicharito, Cheikhou Kouyate and new boy Lukasz Fabianski.
The BBC and ITV studios and commentary boxes are packed with Claret and Blue connections, with Academy of Football graduates Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard, former players Matt Upson, Ian Wright, Patrice Evra and Iain Dowie and ex-manager Slaven Bilic all sharing their expertise and experience with viewers.
But it is a current Hammer who has arguably stolen the show with his own unique combination of enthusiastic, honesty, intelligent and insightful punditry – Pablo Zabaleta.
The right-back told whufc.com he is thoroughly enjoying the experience of working alongside the likes of Lampard, Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Didier Drogba, Cesc Fabregas and the BBC Sport presenter whose work he is a big fan of, Gary Lineker.
“I’m really enjoying my experience as a pundit,” said Zabaleta, who made 58 appearances for Argentina and started the South Americans' 2014 World Cup final defeat by Germany. “It’s really nice working alongside with ex-football players and especially with Gary Lineker. I’ve always been a big fan of Match of the Day, so it’s a great pleasure to work alongside Gary.”
While the relentless World Cup schedule means Zabaleta has been in the studio every day, he has used his free time to visit the sights of the Russian capital Moscow – a city he has played in for both Espanyol and Manchester City in European competition.
“I have been to Moscow many times but always to play games, which meant that I didn’t have much time for visiting historical places like Red Square and the Kremlin, so this week in the mornings I have been walking around the city and it’s a wonderful place,” he revealed.
While Zabaleta’s own Argentina have struggled so far, Chicharito’s Mexico have made a flying start, beating reigning champions Germany and South Korea to qualify for the Round of 16 with a game to spare.
“I’m very happy to see Chicharito and Mexico playing very well and I was happy to see him score his 50th goal for his country on Saturday. I wish them all the best in this tournament.”
While he has thoroughly enjoyed his time in front of the camera, Zabaleta will soon swap the microphone for his football boots, as West Ham return to pre-season training next week.
Unsurprisingly for a man who missed just one Premier League match last season and has more than 600 senior appearances under his belt, the 33-year-old cannot wait to get back on the pitch and start working with his former Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini.
“I can’t wait to be back for pre-season next week and see all the lads again,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to meeting Pellegrini again too.
“It’s been a good five weeks of rest, but now I’m mentally and physically fresh and read to go again!”