Neilson revealed today that the forward has played his way into the first-team squad and is now likely to be kept at Tynecastle.
Hearts intended loaning Zanatta – a scorer for the club’s Under-20s in their 1-1 draw with St Mirren yesterday – out to a lower division club during the January transfer window to give him first-team experience. The 18-year-old’s progress has been rapid since he arrived in Scotland last July, and as such he will have a part to play during the second half of the season.
A youth internationalist with Canada, he has featured as a substitute in four of Hearts’ last five matches. Neilson explained that he will continue to get first-team exposure after impressing the coaching staff at Riccarton.
“Zanatta has been great, I’m really pleased with him,” Neilson told the Evening News. “I planned to put him out on loan and we had a lot of teams interested in him. I think he’s progressed so quickly in the last two or three months that we’ll probably keep a hold of him and he’ll get game time.
“He has changed my thoughts. With his physique, he doesn’t look out of place in the first team. When he first came here, he was a wee bit lightweight. Now he’s trained with us every day and got used to the competitive side and the athleticism you need. He’s nearly there.”
Zanatta left Vancouver Whitecaps last summer and arrived at Hearts initially on trial. He was given a two-year contract and is already seen as a long-term prospect.
“He is one we want to keep long-term but he’s still got 18 months left on his contract so there’s plenty time for him,” continued Neilson. “He’s doing well at the moment, he just needs to keep working hard and progressing.”
Winger Jamie Walker is back training with the first team after knee surgery but won’t be risked against Hamilton this weekend. He has been sidelined since the end of October and had an operation last month to remove a portion of bone from his knee.
Neilson acknowledged that the winger’s recovery has been impressive but he is not expected to play on the synthetic pitch at New Douglas Park.
“It’s unlikely, to be honest,” said Neilson. “He’ll train this week and we’ll have a look at him.
“He’s had a knee problem and the game is on astro, so probably not. It’s more likely he’ll be involved at Inverness. He’ll almost certainly be back for that one. He gives you that quality so it will be good to get him back.”