Three hours up the A9 to Inverness is like a short drive along the road for Dario Zanatta. The teenager is used to gruelling seven-hour bus trips across the Canadian-American border from Vancouver to Portland. He faces two games in two days this weekend but isn’t perturbed in the slightest.
anatta could make his first senior start for Hearts in today’s lunchtime Ladbrokes Premiership match at the Caledonian Stadium. Tomorrow, he is in the club’s under-20 squad for the Little Big Shot Youth Cup quarter-final with Queen of the South at Riccarton.
Travelling doesn’t faze him at all after journeying across his native Canada and parts of the United States attempting to forge a career in football. Having left Vancouver Whitecaps to join Hearts last summer, he is experiencing what for him is a more “local” league.
“People say: ‘Aaargh, three hours to Inverness.’ I’m like: ‘Three hours, that’s nothing. I’m used to seven hours on a bus to Portland.’ That wasn’t easy,” said the young forward. “We flew to California most of the time but Portland was longer. Travel isn’t a big thing for me.
“I hope to be involved in both games this weekend but my first focus is Inverness. If I do play or I don’t play, I’ll talk to the staff and see what they want me to do on Sunday.”
If he is involved in the Highlands, he will be forced to do some of his recovery on the team coach on the return journey to Edinburgh.
“You do your best on the bus, you sleep and make sure you’re eating properly because you know you have a game the next day,” he continued.
“I’d love to be involved this weekend and go from there. I know it’s not going to be easy. Some boys are coming back from injuries in similar positions to me. I hope I can just stay involved.
“It just shows that one day you can play for the first team and the next you’re back in the 20s. I hope I can play a part in both.”
The level-headed Zanatta has progressed quicker than expected since arriving in Scotland. He still remains grounded and humble for one so young, qualities highly valued by the Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson and director of football Craig Levein.
“I don’t feel it’s a step down at all [playing in the under-20s compared to the first team]. If I want to keep getting involved in the first team, I have to prove myself in the 20s.
“If I got 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.
“The progress has been a lot quicker than I expected. I started in the under-20s and 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.
“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.”
The acceleration from youth team to first team has impressed Hearts coaches, who allowed Billy King to join Rangers on loan this week partly because they feel Zanatta can fill his void.
Neilson had intended sending the 18-year-old on loan to a lower division club during the current transfer window, however he quickly had a rethink after seeing Zanatta cope at senior level.
“It would’ve been nice to go on loan but to be here is a lot better,” said the player. “To hear him [Neilson] say I’ve done enough to be pushing forward here is nice. They didn’t say much to me about what clubs were interested in a loan. I always wanted to stay here.”