Dario Zanatta’s bold move to uproot from his native Canada is already beginning to reap rewards.
After almost four years in the youth ranks at Vancouver Whitecaps, the teenage attacker felt the urge to head to Europe in order to progress his fledgling football career.
His leap of faith in deciding to leave the Caps, where he was highly regarded and relatively close to his home city of Victoria, was vindicated in August when, following a couple of trial periods at Riccarton at the end of last season and the beginning of the current one, Hearts handed him a two-year deal.
Signed primarily as a development player, Zanatta’s promising form for the Under-20 team was recognised when he was named as a substitute for the first-team’s trip to Dundee United last month. The Canadian youth internationalist remained on the bench for the victory over Ross County the following week and then got his taste of first-team football when he was introduced in left midfield for the final 20 minutes or so as Hearts coasted towards a 4-0 win over Partick Thistle at Firhill last weekend.
“I didn’t expect to get on but after I saw the way the game was going, I was hoping I might get the opportunity because 3-0 up is a good chance to get a younger player on,” he told the Evening News in his first interview since arriving in Edinburgh. “It was quite sudden because Gavin Reilly was warming up before me [ready to replace Osman Sow], but Sam Nicholson went down with cramp so the gaffer looked at me and said ‘you’re going on’.
“I didn’t think I’d be that nervous but after about ten seconds of being on the pitch my mouth went all dry. I slipped just after I went on but after the first few minutes I calmed down and really enjoyed it. We were quite defensive because we were so far ahead and just seeing the game out but I got a few good touches and I felt comfortable. I didn’t feel out of place. The gaffer congratulated me afterwards on making my debut. It was really exciting. It was a good opportunity for me and I hope to get another chance soon. I’ve still got a long way to go before I can expect to be more involved, but hopefully I can push on after last Saturday.”
This early taste of first-team action has come as a welcome boost to a player who left the comforts of home behind to try and better himself.
“I decided I wanted to leave my old club and find a club in Europe that could help me progress. My agent got in contact with Hearts and arranged for me to come on trial at the end of last season. Hearts thought I did well and invited me back for pre-season. I was here for about three weeks and then they offered me a full-time deal.
“I was open-minded about which country I went to but the fact I’m in an English-speaking country has made me feel less foreign. I did some research and saw that Hearts had quite a few younger players who had come through their youth ranks, so I knew that I would have a better chance of getting close to the first team here than at other clubs I’d looked at.
“I had trials at Gothenburg and Ipswich Town, but Hearts was the club that felt like it worked best for me. From the first day of being here, everyone was so friendly and I enjoyed the environment. The first few months were difficult because I was away from my family, but the more I get to know everyone at the club, the better it is. All the boys have done their best to make me feel welcome here. It’s been really good.”
The Hearts-supporting family Zanatta lives with have also helped him acclimatise to Edinburgh life. “Living in digs helps you settle in and makes it easier to get used to the area rather than just being thrown into living by yourself,” he explained.
“I’d been away from home for a while in Canada but it wasn’t like being across the other side of the world. This is the first real period of being away from my family although I FaceTime my parents every night and keep up to date with what’s happening back home. My parents are coming over to visit me next month. My parents had seen on Twitter that I’d come on against Partick so they were on the phone to me afterwards. The whole family was excited for me.”
Zanatta, who crossed paths with former Scotland striker Kenny Miller at Whitecaps, hopes to remain in the Hearts squad for tomorrow’s Premiership visit from Hamilton. A goal in the Under-20s’ 2-2 draw with Falkirk on Monday will have done his chances no harm in that regard.
“Hopefully I’ll be in the squad again against Hamilton but I know I won’t be getting consistent minutes with the first team at the moment, so the main thing is that I keep proving myself week in, week out for the 20s and in training,” said Zanatta, who views himself primarily as a central striker. “I feel like I’ve progressed well since I arrived here. I started off the season ok and in the last few games I think I’ve performed a lot better. It helps that I’m feeling more comfortable here and understanding my team-mates better. The gaffer and Foxy [coach Liam Fox] talk to me all the time about my progress. All the staff are really supportive.”