WHILE others groan at the prospect of a trip to Inverness, young Dario Zanatta has no qualms about heading north – he has travelled much further to gain first team football.
The 18-year-old Canadian, who joined Hearts in the summer, is looking to add to his first team appearances today, provided the match passes a 7.30am pitch inspection, and considers the bus sojourn north a small price to pay, given his experiences while coming through the ranks at the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“People say: ‘Aaargh, three hours to Inverness.’ I’m like: ‘Three hours, is nothing. I’m used to seven hours on a bus to Portland.’ That wasn’t easy.”
Some journeys are quicker than others, though, As a child, playing for Gorge FC and Victoria Capitals, his dream was always to trade it all in for a shot at European football. He gave that ambition a kick when he headed for trials in England, Sweden and Scotland last term. Hearts turned out to be the best fit and his advance into the first team has come a lot sooner than he could have anticipated.
“My agent got in touch with the club and I came over on trial at the end of last season and they invited me back for this year. I experienced the last game of the season against Rangers and the celebrations. It was really good just to see what was going on and it made me want to come back
“I just wanted to prove myself in the 20s this season. I thought I’d more or less just be playing for the 20s, maybe just training a little bit with the first team. I hoped I’d get a first-team appearance but it wasn’t something I expected.
“It’s been a lot quicker than I expected. Just to train with the first team was a big moment for me. I got more consistent and, since being on the bench against Dundee United, I’ve gone forward ever since.”
His first appearance came in October, coming on for the last 19 minutes of the 4-0 victory over Partick Thistle, and his input since, in training and in matches, has been enough to convince manager Robbie Neilson that he could survive without fellow winger Billy King for the remainder of this campaign.
Last weekend Zanatta replaced his fellow winger for the second 45 minutes and could have been the hero with a couple of late headers, one of which hit the crossbar. It wasn’t to be but it has made him hungry for more.
“I’ve thought about it quite a bit. I’m just hoping to move on and do better next time. When I came on I was excited but I knew it was going to be a hard game. I was just thankful to be involved. It was the first time I’d played a full half and it was tough but I’d love to be involved again this weekend and go from there.”
While King was at a stage of his development where first team football was almost a must, Zanatta is willing to be more patient. He knows that he faces stiff opposition and that the return of Jamie Walker only underlines that but he is content to continue his development in the U-20s and use that as a platform as he seeks to make the most of his two-year deal.
On Sunday, he will play in the Youth Cup quarter-final against Queen of the South at Riccarton, hopefully making it two games, in two days.
“I hope I can play a part in both. If I want to keep getting involved in the first team, I have to prove myself in the 20s. If I go back to the 20s and think I’m too good, it’s going to look bad on me and I won’t get more opportunities with the first team.”