Atlético Ottawa announced on Wednesday that the club has signed experienced Spanish midfielder Alberto Zapater through the remainder of the 2023 Canadian Premier League season, with an option for 2024.
Zapater, 38, arrives in the capital with an incredible wealth of experience playing at some of world football’s highest levels. He’s spent almost 20 years playing professionally in Europe, starting his pro career in 2004 at La Liga side Real Zaragoza. He has also played top-flight football with Italian club Genoa, Portuguese side Sporting, and Russian giants Lokomotiv Moscow.
“We are very excited to welcome Alberto to Ottawa as one of, if not the biggest, signing in Canadian Premier League history,” expressed Fernando López, CEO of Atlético Ottawa. “His remarkable career speaks for itself, and we believe he will give our team the boost we need to covert our good performances to even better results. This is a position on the field we have been determined to bolster and in Alberto, I think we have found the right match for our squad. We will continue with our commitment to bring top players to the nation’s capital to become the benchmark for soccer in the Canadian landscape.”
Throughout his career in Europe, he played 422 times for his boyhood club Zaragoza across the Spanish first and second divisions, competing against the likes of Ronaldinho. Zapater also played in continental competition for various clubs, making history with Serie A side Genoa in 2009 when he scored the club’s first-ever goal in the UEFA Europa League group stage against Slavia Prague.
The native of Ejea de los Caballeros in Aragon, Spain was also once a key figure for the Spanish youth national team setup, representing his country at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship (now the U-20 World Cup). Zapater was a teammate of future 2010 World Cup winners Cesc Fàbregas, Fernando Llorente and David Silva.
That youth tournament saw Zapater help Spain win their group and advance to the quarter-finals, where he scored against Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Messi himself would also score in a 3-1 victory for the Albiceleste, but Zapater impressed enough for Argentine legend Diego Maradona to give him the nickname “The Bull.”
“Zapater’s arrival is a positive step for our squad this season,” added Atlético Ottawa head coach Carlos González. “His understanding of the game on and off the ball plus his ability to compete will give more solidity to our midfield and increase the overall strength of the team. We are confident that his football, experience and hierarchy as well as the passion he shows for the game will greatly benefit our team directly and indirectly as well.”
Zapater himself, who bid an emotional farewell to Zaragoza at the end of the European season, explained in a statement his reasoning for choosing to leave Europe for Canada:
“While I had offers in Spain, I chose not to continue playing there because Real Zaragoza is the club of my heart,” he said. “I wanted a new challenge, something entirely different from my past experiences. Canada was among four countries where I received offers, but Atlético Ottawa was the first to reach out to me after my season ended. I heard great things and felt a genuine sense of love and support. I am eager to bring my family to this incredible city and country. Adapting to the playing style and getting to know my teammates will take a little time, but I am determined to do so as quickly as possible. I am here to contribute, enjoy the game, and compete to win every match.”
González will welcome Zapater into a midfield group that already includes reigning CPL Player of the Year Ollie Bassett, as well as Canadian talents Noah Verhoeven and Zakaria Bahous. The new addition is sure to provide a boost in a key area of the pitch for Ottawa, functioning as a replacement for holding midfielder Abdou Sissoko who departed the club in the off-season after helping Atleti to a regular season championship.
At 38 years old, Zapater will be the oldest player to date to play for a Canadian Premier League club.
Zapater is eligible to play for Atlético Ottawa once the summer transfer window opens on July 5. Their first match after that date will come on Sunday, July 9 when they’ll be at home at TD Place to take on Valour FC.