LONDON (AP) – Kurt Zouma got a first taste of the public outcry over his cat-kicking incident during West Ham’s 1-0 win over Watford in the Premier League on Tuesday.
Jarrod Bowen’s second-half goal secured victory for West Ham, which climbed into fourth place above Manchester United, but the main talking point was the inclusion of Zouma.
The France defender was named in the starting lineup despite a video – shared widely across social media – showing him kicking and slapping a cat. West Ham had earlier said it “unreservedly condemns the actions of our player”.
Watford’s visiting fans relentlessly booed Zouma’s every touch and chanted, among other things, ‘RSPCA, RSPCA’ – referring to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Former West Ham players Joe Cole and James Collins, at the match working as pundits in the media, felt the club had made a mistake in not sitting the 27-year-old Zouma.
“I think it’s a miscalculation by the club. He could have sat this one out,” Cole told BT Sport, while Collins said on BBC radio: “I think there is a lot of anger and rightly so. I personally don’t think it is the right call.”
Yet despite the widespread revulsion toward the disturbing footage – an online petition calling for Zouma to be “prosecuted for animal cruelty” had attracted 25,000 signatures – West Ham manager David Moyes stuck with Zouma “because he is one of our better players”.
“It is certainly ongoing,” Moyes said, “and the club are dealing with it, so that is a separate matter”.
After the match, Moyes said Zouma will remain available for selection.
“The club will sort the other side of it out,” Moyes said, “and I’ll look after the football side”.
The priority for Moyes was clearly getting West Ham’s Champions League challenge back on track after successive defeats.
Relegation-threatened Watford arrived at the Olympic Stadium fresh from a first clean sheet of the season in a goalless draw at Burnley, which was Roy Hodgson’s first game in charge since replacing Claudio Ranieri.
It looked as if the visitors were on their way to another, only for their defence to stand off Bowen as he drove through the centre of the field. The England hopeful’s low shot clipped the heel of Hornets defender Samir, sending goalkeeper Ben Foster the wrong way as the ball trickled into the net.
Watford’s best chance to equalise fell to Juraj Kucka, who blazed his effort over the crossbar from 15 yards out.
Bowen almost doubled the advantage with six minutes remaining but Foster tipped his curler onto the post. Watford dropped one spot, to next-to-last place.