Seven years on from making his first appearance in a Peterborough United shirt, centre-back Gaby Zakuani is glad to be back in training after a busy summer on international duty with DR Congo.
The 29-year-old has only had one weeks rest due to his oversees adventures, but Zakuani is enjoying his first week of taking part in a ‘new and refreshing’ pre-season schedule.
Zakuani said: “It is good to be back, I didn’t really feel like I had a break because I played three international games. I then managed to get away for a weeks rest which was nice, but now I’m ready to get stuck into pre-season.
“I had three games with Dr Congo, one against a non-league team in Belgium which was too easy and we won 16 or 17-0. The others were much more testing as we drew 1-1 against a strong Cameroon side before beating Madagascar 2-1.”
DR Congo had a successful African Cup of Nations finishing third overall after losing out to Yaya Toure’s Ivory Coast in the Semi Final in front of a 41,000 strong crowd back in February - a stark contrast to running out on cold Tuesday night at Crewe.
And Zakuani is keen to continue his African adventure for as long as possible.
He added: “It is really different playing international football as you never have chance to work on the team because you never know who you will be playing alongside so it is a surprise package each time.
“I hope that I am able to keep playing international football for a few more years yet and having already played in two African Cup of Nations I hope I can play in at least one more because it is a great experience and I want to play for my country as long as I can.”
Despite admitting that pre-season is not his favourite time of year, the former Fulham man is embracing a different schedule to previous ‘Fergie’ years as the squad still adapts to the changes implemented by the new management team of Dave Robertson and Grant McCann.
“The lads are really enjoying training and it’s refreshing to be taking part in a different approach,” Zakuani revealed. “We are still doing lots of fitness training as normal but the main difference is that the balls are out and we are already working on tactics.
“Robbo and Grant have freshened things up with a new approach and all the lads are keen to buy into it. Despite finishing the season with them in charge last season it was all about points and results with lots of pressure, so it’s nice to be working on things with less pressure and to be able to understand what he wants from us a bit more.”
Although a club veteran, Zakuani still taught the youngsters a lesson by posting the fastest time in training over 10, 20 and 30 metres this week.
Gabby’s best form arrived in the latter stages of last season and an important factor in that upturn was the guidance of former teammate Grant McCann.
“When Grant came in it really helped,” Zakuani admitted. “After being a former teammate of mine he knew my strengths and just let me get on with what I am good at doing. I have been a professional for a long time so do not need too many instructions to tell me how to defend.”
Despite ending the season in good form Zakuani endured a frustrating campaign for a number of reasons but believes a consistent run of games is the key to his success.
“I wouldn’t say my best form arrived after the change of manager,” Zakuani claimed. “Because I thought me and Jack Baldwin played well in the first game at Rochdale. After I got injured it was stop and start throughout the season.
“I thought when I did play I played okay, but it was hard to get a run in the team with frequent international call ups. When Robbo came in I was given a good run of games which helped because I
am a player who needs that to find my best form.”
The stalwart defender may once again line up alongside 19-year-old Ricardo Santos this season, a player Zakuani has great faith in.
“It is good to have Santos alongside me,” Zakuani stated. “He is constantly learning and improving. I think he has real potential to become a top centre half. I just need to keep encouraging him and ensure that he maintains his concentration.
“Ever since I have been at the club I have felt that I can lead from the back, especially in tough times and next season will be no different.”
Another player who has impressed Zakuani is new signing Joe Gormley and he believes he will help score the goals that the team lacked last season.
“I have only seen Joe Gormley once,” Zakuani said. “But his finishing looks very composed and his goal-record is astonishing. The goals are the same size no matter what league you play in so if we give him the service I think he will score.
“Aside from promotion being the obvious aim, I’m aiming to score more goals than I did last season, but if the defence is sound and we keep clean sheets, I’m confident that the forwards can score the goals to put us in a good position.”
Zakuani is keen to improve on last season’s ninth place finish in League One and knows that solidarity in his defensive line is crucial, despite the constant emphasis on the flood of goals returning to Posh.
“The main thing to improve on from last season is to ensure we get some consistency and kill teams off because we conceded a lot of late goals,” Zakuani added. “It is good that we will begin with a similar back line to last season, consistency is important which is why we conceded less towards the end of last season.”