For all his faults on the pitch — most of which he compensates for with his incredible athleticism — there have never been any doubts over Kurt Zouma's character. “Happy” is his middle name, and it truly suits him, especially if you follow him on Instagram.
“I’m happy with my loan move [to Stoke City], of course. I came here to play and I did it.”
Unfortunately for the man who’s always smiling, there wasn’t too much to laugh about at the Britannia this season. Despite his best efforts, Stoke have spiralled down into the relegation zone after years and years of mid-table security. They have been in 19th place for the last two months and look set to return to the Championship exactly 10 years after leaving it.
While many have accused the players of “downing tools” — an inevitable accusation that may or may not have any basis in reality against any team under-performing by a wide margin — Zouma has maintained singular focus on Stoke’s survival, even though he could excused if he were already looking forward to playing under better circumstances back at Chelsea next season.
“Especially not at the moment... If I know I’m still in the Premier League [with Stoke] then I will see about the future. But not now.”
“I’m just focused on my team and try and keep them in the Premier League and win games - that’s the most important thing. That’s the most that I want. It doesn’t matter about the rest at the moment.”
On Monday, Stoke took on West Ham at the London Stadium, and got very close to winning all three points after Joe Hart gifted Peter Crouch his 44th league goal for the club 79 minutes into the match.
44 - Peter Crouch has scored 44 goals for Stoke City in the Premier League, more than any other player (Jonathan Walters next on 43). Robot.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 16, 2018
However Stoke were unable to hold on to the 1-0 lead. Andy Carroll, who, like Crouch, had been hilariously linked with a Chelsea move in January, got a late-late equalizer for the hosts. It was the 15th time in their last 16 matches in all competitions that they’ve failed to win.
Zouma was not happy with that at all.
“I think we should have won here [against West Ham], that was the target: to win. Obviously we are a bit sad with the goal we conceded at the end of the game, but I think we did well. We defended well.”
”We scored the first one, we wanted to keep a clean sheet but unfortunately we couldn’t.”
It’s a bit like Chelsea, except at the other end of the table.
”Our heads are a bit down, but there are still four games left to go and we still believe we can stay in the Premier League. We have to be focused for Sunday.”
-Kurt Zouma; source: London Evening Standard
Best of luck to Zouma & Co, who do have two games left against fellow relegation-battlers Crystal Palace and Swansea City and could yet conceivably escape. It won’t be easy, or likely given the five-point deficit, but it’s not over until it’s over.
And then hopefully we’ll be seeing the 23-year-old big man back at Cobham and challenging for a first-team spot in the summer.