Florida sunshine for an international training camp or the blood and thunder of Scotland’s League One in January? Dario Zanatta wasn’t give the choice.
Canada wanted the Hearts forward to join their Under-23 squad on Tuesday for a nine-day stay in America but Raith Rovers, who have Zanatta on loan until May, are engaged in a tense bid for promotion back to the Championship. Manager Barry Smith gave the idea short shrift.
“The gaffer was really happy I got called up and he knows it’s a big honour for me to play for Canada. At the same time, it was a quick answer,” chuckled 20-year-old Zanatta.
“I remember getting the email and I looked at the dates right away. I saw we had Ayr at home that week, which is a top-of-the-table clash. It was one of those situations which was tough to bring up. I’d love to be able to do both but the decision was made and we move on.
“We have a few important games coming and it’s not an official international break. It’s frustrating because it’s an honour to represent your country but it’s also a good thing that Raith want me here. They feel I’m an important part of the team so that shows faith in me.”
Zanatta has placed significant trust in the Kirkcaldy club, too. The season-long loan is designed to ready him for the Premiership next year at Hearts, where his contract runs until summer 2019. He has seen nine teenagers sample first-team football at his parent club during his absence but his goal is to make a serious impact there after the summer.
“I’m happy for all the young guys getting their chance. I want to be in that situation; I want to be playing for Hearts. I went on loan at a time when there weren’t as many opportunities so it’s just one of those things,” he said.
“I need to focus on playing well at Raith. If I’m doing well I’ll get recalled or come back to Hearts next season and then push for a starting place. If I’m not performing well for Raith, there’s no way I’ll get into the Hearts team. I want to make sure I’m performing every week so that gets reported back to Hearts. I want to score goals, create goals and stay in the gaffer’s thoughts. Then, hopefully, I can get back in the summer and get a chance with Hearts.
“We felt at the start of the season that my game time would be limited at Hearts so it was better to go on loan.
“It was tough to get into the Raith team at the start because they were winning all the time, but I’ve been playing well and scoring goals in the last two months. My confidence is good so I can’t complain. I’ve mostly played wide on the left and I feel comfortable there.”
Four goals in 13 games is a reasonable return from a player who, by his own admission, needs to toughen up.
“League One is a different test,” he explained. “It’s a man’s game, it’s tough and you can’t get that with Hearts Under-20s. Every week I know I’m going to get kicked about at times and I’m going to have to work on things I’m not the best at. That’s why I’m here and I feel I’m improving.”
Octavio Zambrano, Canada’s Under-23 coach, certainly wasn’t put off calling up a player from Scotland’s third tier.
“It shows how competitive Scottish football is. There are quite a few Canadians playing at different levels here. Boys in Canada are aspiring to get over here because they feel they can make a difference. I’m really happy I made the decision to come over to Scotland. I don’t regret it at all,” said Zanatta.
After leaving Vancouver Whitecaps in his homeland in 2015, he made 14 appearances for Hearts in his first season. He was loaned to Queens Park last year – scoring six times in 27 games – and now Raith. Riccarton coaching staff continue to monitor his progress and there is no question next season will be the biggest of his burgeoning career so far
“The first season went even better than planned. Since then, I’ve had a few loan spells but I want to push on now and get back into the picture at Hearts,” stressed the player.
“They always message me if I score or I do well and we win. It’s nice to know they’re still concerned about me and how I’m doing. I’m just concentrating on trying to play well so that, when I get my chance back at Hearts, I take it.”