By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Atlético Ottawa
With the transfer window coming open on July 5th, Atletico Ottawa fans have been clamouring for change. Sitting 7th in the table after their first ten games, the first thing on many supporters' wish lists has been the signing of a natural central defensive midfielder. While Miguel Acosta has filled this role capably over the last few games, it has come at the expense of defensive depth that could be challenged as the season progresses due to injury, suspension, or both.
To address this concern, enter Alberto Zapater. The 38-year-old Spaniard comes to Atletico Ottawa from the 2nd division side Real Zaragoza. Serving as the club captain for his hometown side, Zapater registered 380 league appearances in his 12 seasons with the club over two different stints. In between his time with Zaragoza, Zapater featured for Genoa in Serie A, Sporting Lisbon in (then) Liga NOS, and Lokomotiv in the Russian Premier League. His career also saw him win 34 Europa League caps with three different sides and a Spanish Super Cup victory in his debut professional season, 2004.
His style of play has been commonly referenced as hard-nosed, strong-willed, and defensively aggressive. This earned him the nickname “El Toro” from none other than Diego Maradona. While this is certainly a quality that is to be admired in a holding midfielder, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the style of officiating currently in the Canadian Premier League. While the league has seen somewhat of a decline in the number of yellows handed out this season, as Atletico Ottawa saw 75 handed out to players in 31 CPL games last year and has only received 16 through 10 games, there is still potential for the officiating to crack down on a player going in hard as often as Zapater is wont to do. The other concern is that Zapater is 38 years old and coming off his 19th professional season. One wonders how he’ll adapt to the turf in the CPL after playing on natural grass his entire career.
The flip side to that argument is that he’s still managed to play significant minutes in his last few seasons with Zaragoza, COVID years not included. He shows no signs of slowing down and brings an immense amount of experience to the pitch. The comfort he will bring to the more advanced midfielders will be a true blessing, and the knowledge he can impart will be even greater. The list of elite opponents that he has faced in his career is too long to provide here, but with his pedigree, Zapater stands to be the most prestigious signing for any club in the Canadian Premier League to date.
With the announcement of this signing, it’s clear that the club is trying to do everything possible to fix the issues that have presented themselves through the first third of the season. The mid-season acquisition of Sergio Camus last year was a key one in solidifying the defensive core for the final stretch of the season. If this signing comes good in a similar way, there’s a distinct possibility that this team could be back in the thick of it come the end of the summer, especially given how tight the middle of the pack truly is.
Having joined CCSG in 2022, Patrick started his footie career playing at the age of 4 and began watching the pros around the same time. While the first pro team he supported was Manchester United, as soon as Atlético Ottawa came to town, he was immediately on board. His wealth of footie knowledge has been a constant asset, along with his role as caretaker for Atléti Wikipedia pages.