DCSIMG

After bursting onto scene as a kid, Vaz Te feels ready to fulfil potential at Hibs

His first experience of football on these shores was a bewildering one. A callow Portuguese kid who had developed his game mainly on the streets of his homeland and Africa was being urged by a Bolton youth team coach to track his runner, use the channels, and apply tactics to his play.

Ricardo Vaz Te quickly metamorphosed into a talented team player and made his Premiership debut at Old Trafford a year later. A succession of knee injuries curtailed his rapid progress at the Reebok Stadium and put paid to a new contract last summer, the then-winger leaving after seven years, 88 first-team appearances and eight goals. "When I came (to Bolton] I was a bit lost," says Hibs' most recent signing. "(They said] track your runner, you need to play with that ball. For me, I had no responsibility - I just did my own thing.

"I had to grow, basically, had to take it seriously. I never took (football] so seriously, only when I came to Bolton. You have to run backwards, forwards, (do things] tactical-wise."

Vaz Te was born in Lisbon but moved to Africa a year later, staying with his father in Guinea-Bissau until the age of 11. Having learned the game on the streets, the youngster spent three months being professionally coached at Sporting Lisbon after returning to Portugal, then moved to the Algarve and joined the under-19 team of SC Farense.

"I was at Sporting Lisbon when I was eleven but didn't last long because it was a hassle for my mum to take me to training.

"It was tough for her because she was at home with these kids - seven of them, by the way.

"So I just played locally, and started playing five-a-side.

"I did a pre-season with Sporting and stayed for three months but when school started and the results werent so good, my mum said enough is enough. They would train a couple of days a week. At that time, (for me] football was a serious thing, but I just think it's a fun thing."

His fun-loving outlook translates into an often-languid style on the pitch that certainly impressed Bolton scouts in Portugal and in England's north-west.

"I went on trial at Bolton for a day, and signed the same day," recalls Vaz Te. "Obviously, my mum didn't want to let me go."But she came, she saw the club, and they guaranteed to look after me."

Mother Maria doesn't normally travel to see her son play, but one of her proudest moments was watching him score a late equaliser to pinch a point for Bolton in the UEFA Cup - a game against Vitoria Guimaraes, based near Lisbon, that she attended on the insistence of one of Ricardo's brothers.

Compared to those halcyon days of Vaz Te's career, there is evidence from aspects of recent performances - including his derby goal against Hearts recently - to suggest that the Hibs No.?8 could rediscover some of the form that not so long ago drew him praise within England's Premiership.

"I had injuries in my career which didn't help," reflected the 24-year-old. "I had one knee injury after another, a niggle here, another there. Then it was like, "Woah, you haven't played for two-and-a-half years" - and you start losing it.

"They said it was something to do with my leg length difference, but I wear insoles now. The purpose here (at Hibs] is to get back in shape and do the best I can, to show my appreciation for this club. They have given me the platform to step back and I'm trying my best."

These days, Vaz Te seems desperate to justify his talent. His release from Bolton was followed by a mutual agreement to rip up his contract at next club Panionios, the Greeks having run out of money to retain many of their players after losing their club president. Vaz Te, still only 24, openly recites the mantra: mistakes are a portal of discovery.

"No matter what they tell you, you have to learn for yourself," he says.

"There are many things I could have done differently. There was so much I could learn from all these people (at Bolton] who had been everywhere and won so many things, but I was so young. You're naive, you don't think two steps ahead, only one. I learned as much as I could in time, but there was so much more I could have achieved and learned, just by being humble and being able to listen, to try harder. I'm much older now, but when there's too much information at once it's hard to digest - there's a lot going on, and I didn't know how to deal with it. Obviously, it's hard because everywhere you go people know who you are, you do something and everybody worships you. Me and one other kid (Joey O'Brien, still contracted to Bolton] were the only ones who made it to the first team aged 17. It can get to you. Although I was never 'big time', looking back there were moments when I was too much there or too much here."

From shouldering the pressure of being the Next Big Thing in England, Vaz Te is happy to be part of a young Hibs squad with more space to learn. The last six games of the season - Hamilton Accies visit Easter Road on Sunday before Hibs embark on a relatively pressure-free bottom-six battle - are perhaps the perfect stage for the striker to get back to somewhere near his top form and earn a new deal when his current contract runs out this summer.

"I thought it was time to push a bit harder," says Vaz Te of when he first arrived at Hibs. "I had a long spell with injuries so I felt like I lost some ground. I'm just trying to catch up, and I thought this would be a good opportunity."

"At my best, I would hope for Hibs fans to see some speed, agility, skills and hopefully some end product. Hopefully, if I get my chance I can take it."

 
 
 

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