Mr Hat-Trick savouring life in Iran
Possessing dual Irish and Libyan nationality, the striker served notice of his talent last term when his goals helped Iranian outfit Persepolis reach the last 16 of the AFC Champions League.
That memorable campaign in Asia's most prestigious club competition has turned the 28-year-old into a genuine star in Tehran. And with celebrity status has come a nickname too, Mr Hat-Trick, having thrilled supporters with his knack for firing in trebles on the domestic and continental stage.
FIFA.com spoke with Zayed about his exploits with Persepolis in the Champions League, his adaptation to the Iranian game and his dream of representing Libya at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
FIFA.com: Eamon, you began your career ten years ago. What have been the major highlights along the way?
Eamon Zayed: I've experienced several magical moments in those ten years and I enjoy playing just as much now as I ever have. My favourite memory is probably the U-20 World Cup with the Republic of Ireland. I spent the majority of my career there and I was lucky enough to win numerous titles and individual honours. I was voted best young player by my peers in 2003 and, eight years later, I was named best player in the league and finished top scorer.
Speaking of your titles as best player and leading scorer in 2011, would you say that year was your finest so far?
2011 was very special for me. I joined Derry City and rediscovered my passion for playing. It was a fantastic season because I won the three titles that were missing from my CV. All in all, it was just unforgettable.
Why did you choose to move to Iran to join Persepolis?
The club's officials contacted me after my great season with Derry in 2011. I wasn't sold on playing in Iran to begin with, but my opinion changed when I spoke with other Irish people living there. Persepolis are one of the most prestigious clubs in Asia and have millions of supporters. I was sure that I wouldn't regret my decision.
The Persepolis fans have labelled you Mr Hat-Trick due to your habit of scoring trebles. Do you feel flattered by that?
There's nothing more wonderful than scoring a goal. I've scored a lot since I started out and I can tell you that it's an exceptional feeling to help your team win. It's very difficult to find the back of the net and that perhaps explains why strikers are so expensive. The Persepolis fans are brilliant and add another dimension to the club. It's an honour for me to have been given this nickname, and wherever I go people make a sign by holding up three fingers. I think that's great.
You made headlines by scoring five goals in six Champions League matches last season. How would you judge your own performances in the competition?
To play and score in the Champions League is something fantastic. If someone had told me a year ago that I'd be playing in that competition and score, I wouldn't have believed it. To get five in six games is no small thing. Unfortunately, we didn't play well away against Al Ittihad in Saudi Arabia in the last 16, and there was no disputing that our opponents deserved their win. Overall, I'd say that my first experience of the Asian Champions League was a success.
You also enjoyed some fine moments in Europe with Drogheda United and Sporting Fingal. What differences have you noticed between European and Asian club competitions?
I've been lucky enough to play in the Europa League, UEFA Champions League and the AFC Champions League, scoring in each of them. I think the European competitions are more demanding physically. The extreme heat in Asia, and especially in the western part of the continent, perhaps explains why the game is slower here, even if the technical level is very good in the Champions League. European teams are more intelligent in their play, however, and that's why they're the best in the world.
Libya have started well on the road to Brazil 2014, beating Cameroon and securing a draw with Togo. How do you rate the team's chances, in a group which also features Congo DR?
It's a tough group and I think that Cameroon are still the favourites, but after our first two matches I think we can qualify. Nothing's impossible in football and if we manage to go through, it would be a huge event for our country after so many difficulties.
Do you think Libya can still qualify for the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations after losing 1-0 to Algeria last month?
It won't be easy because we'll have to beat the Algerians on their own turf, but despite the defeat we mustn't forget that we had lots of chances. I hope we'll have better luck finishing them in Algeria.
You are still awaiting authorisation to represent Libya. If you obtain it, do you think you will be able to play in the qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations and 2014 FIFA World Cup?
I'm hoping the situation changes before the return leg against Algeria so that I'll be able to help Libya qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. I know I can bring a lot to the national team and I think one of my famous hat-tricks would be enough to take us through to the finals (laughs).