The Good Days of Duván Zapata

Timing is very important in football, you can ask Duván Zapata. The Colombian striker can't stop scoring in his last matches and he became one of the hottest players in the transfer market. He is already linked with several major European clubs who are looking to strengthen their offensive line. Who is the player that plays in Serie A for five years, but just now is getting the spotlight?

Duván Zapata was born on April 1st, 1991 in a little neglected village which is called El Tamboral in Padilla, Cauca. Three blocks away, was born and raised Cristian Zapata, AC Milan’s center back, who was Duván’s best friend during their childhood. If you noticed that they are sharing the same surname, it's because they are cousins.

They used to play football together on the sidewalk, the only football court in the village. The tough reality and the difficulties to earn money in the village made his parents move to Cali in order to find a better life and salary. Duván joined local club, America de Cali, while Cristian joined their rivals, Deportivo Cali. At the age of 16 he was 1.86m and you could already see his potential when he easily managed to play against players at his age. America’s coach, Diego Umaña decided to give Duván his chance with the senior squad before he was 17 and he replied with a goal in his debut as a pro.

Zapata was part of one of the best U-20 national team’s of Colombia, which included players like James Rodriguez, Luis Muriel and Edwin Cardona. Back in 2011, Colombia hosted the U-20 World Cup and Zapata got prepared for the most important tournament in his career. Unfortunately, he received the worst news during the preparations: His mother collapsed and died back home. Despite the tragedy, Zapata stayed with his teammates, played three matches and scored Colombia's goal at the quarter final against Mexico, who won 3-1. The scouts followed him and he signed for the Argentine club Estudiantes La Plata after the World Cup. He adjusted very well in Argentina and became the top scorer of the team. He spent two years in Estudiantes, playing 46 matches and scoring 22 goals.

His form in Argentina created interest in several European teams and in August 2013 he was bought by Napoli for $10m. Despite being one of Napoli's expensive players back then, Zapata didn't really receive a decent chance to prove himself. Despite the comments of the head coach, Rafa Benitez, who said that Zapata is important for the club, he started only once and played 60 minutes. He finished his two seasons there with 15 goals in 53 matches in all competitions.

In July 2015 Zapata was loaned for two years to Udinese and became a regular starter. He performed very well but suffered from an unstable form, mostly because of a serious injury at the beginning of the season, which left him outside for four months. In his period with Udinese, Zapata scored 19 goals in 65 matches and was considered as a decent striker in the Serie A. Yet, he still couldn't found a way to be on a better form.

In August 2017 he joined Sampdoria on loan and was one of their main players. He had a good relationship with his coach and the fans. Even though he scored 11 goals in 31 matches, Zapata was still far from fulfilling his potential. His performances made Jose Pekerman to call him for Colombia's preliminary squad for 2018 World Cup, but he didn't made the cut to the final roster.

At the beginning of the current season, Atalanta purchased him for €14m. Zapata was happy with this transfer. "I had a great relationship with the fans and with the coach, but Sampdoria decided they didn't want me anymore," said Zapata, "Atalanta has been my first choice, they wanted me more than any other club." Despite being a regular starter as well, he couldn't find the net enough times in his first three months and scored only six goals in all competitions.

Suddenly, something has changed last December. He scored in every match in this month - nine goals in six matches. His record included a hat-trick against his former club, Udinese and a brace against the champions, Juventus. His excellent performances made him win the Serie A player of the month award. It was also a new record, as he broke Francesco Totti's record, who scored seven goals in six matches.

His form didn't tone down quite yet. A month later, on January 20th, he played his best game in his career. Atalanta played away against Frosinone and Zapata scored four goals in a single game for the first time in his career. He became the first Atalanta player to do so since Hasse Jeppson in 1952. He was also became the joint leader of the Seria A top scorers list alongside with Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Quagliarella, all with 14 goals.

Meanwhile, his name was linked with several major European clubs such as Inter Milan and Roma. West Ham was the only club that actually tried to buy him, but Atalanta rejected their €40m offer. Ironically, it's not the first time that West Ham tries to buy him, as they already reached an agreement with Estudiantes in 2013 on £6.7m release fee, but his transfer was canceled due to failing get a work permit.

The timing of his performances is not only related to the transfer window. At the end of the season, Colombia will take part at the Copa America and many fans would like to see Zapata at the first XI of Los Cafeteros. He made his debut during 2018 World Cup qualifiers and played next to Radamel Falcao. Many hoped to see their partnership also at the World Cup, but Pekerman made his decisions and left him out. Now, as veteran players like Falcao are no longer part of the team, maybe Zapata and a new generation of young players will lead the team.