Since leaving Real Zaragoza in 2009, defensive midfielder Alberto Zapater has experienced three different leagues around Europe, with his adventures taking him to Italy, Portugal, and now Russia. The twenty seven year old currently plays for Lokomotiv Moscow, a mid-table team in the Russian Premier League.
Zapater is Zaragoza born and bred, and joined the club’s youth ranks in 1997. After progressing through the various youth teams, he caught the eye in 2004, scoring a dozen goals for the youth side and demonstrating a flair for passing. He was promptly called into the senior squad by manager Victor Munoz, and immediately started delivering on his potential. He played both legs of the 2004-05 Supercopa de Espana, helping the side beat Valencia 3-2 on aggregate. This, however, still remains as the only trophy Zapater has won in his career (he has been a runner up twice, which will become clear later in the article).
He immediately made an impact in his debut season, featuring in thirty one La Liga games, scoring once (against Real Sociedad in March 2005, a 2-1 defeat in which he also received his first red card). He was fast becoming one of the first names on the team sheet, and the following season he played in a total of forty four league and cup matches. He only missed three league games, and helped the team to a respectable eleventh place finish. They also reached the Copa Del Rey final, where they lost 4-1 to Espanyol in Estadio Bernabeu. In 2006-07 and 2007-08, Zapater played in seventy two of the seventy six league games, and the club finished sixth in 2006-07, qualifying for the UEFA Cup in the process. However, the following season saw the team struggle, both domestically and in Europe. The nightmare campaign began with elimination in the first round of the UEFA Cup, and ended with relegation to Segunda Division. During the 2007-08 season, Zapater was rewarded for his consistency by being awarded the vice captaincy at. La Romareda.
He helped the club make an immediate return to Spain’s top flight, finishing as runners-up, one point behind Xerez. Again, he was a regular presence in midfield, missing just three of the forty two league matches. In May 2009, he made his two hundredth appearance for Zaragoza, an achievement he was understandably proud of. I mean, to reach a double century in just five seasons is good going! Despite playing in the club’s 2009-10 preseason, he would leave the club, and Spain, before the La Liga season commenced. He joined Serie A club Genoa for around €4.5million, an offer that the financially beleaguered club couldn’t turn down. The player himself broke down in tears as he undertook a press conference about the move, and the club’s fans dedicated a chant to him.
He only spent one season in Italy, but he did feature regularly, making twenty eight league appearances and scoring three times, including a debut goal against Roma. He performed so well that he was linked with moves to Juventus, Lazio, and Valencia. However, after making thirty six appearances in all competitions, and four goals, he was sold to Sporting Lisbon in a deal that saw Miguel Veloso move in the opposite direction. Despite making thirty four appearances for The Lions, he was not a first choice player, and was transfer listed at the end of the 2010-11 season, his only one at the club.
In August 2011, he completed a move to his current club on a free transfer, and seems to have settled into life in Russia. He has learned the language, and has been quoted as saying that this was the best move of his life. He has played twenty eight games in total in his eighteen months at the club, scoring just one goal. Lokomotiv have been consistent contenders for Europa League.
At international level, Zapater played five times for the under-20 team, and fourteen for the under-21′s. He hasn’t been used by the senior side, and with the plethora of quality players in his position at their disposal, he most likely never will get a call up to La Furia Roja. However, he is a top class midfielder, and I would love to see him make a return to La Liga at some point in his future career. For now, though, I wish him well in Russia and I’m glad he’s found somewhere that he can be happy and settled after an unsettled couple of years.