Henri Anier finally feels ready to reignite at Hibs after what has effectively amounted to a 19-month stagnation of his career.
His 2014/15 campaign was something of a write-off after ill-fated spells at German side Erzgebirge Aue and then parent club Dundee United, where he lacked match fitness and subsequently form. A season-long loan move to Hibs, finalised on transfer-deadline day, was supposed to signal a fresh start for the Estonian. This hope was temporarily dashed when he pulled a quad muscle just days after arriving at Easter Road. However, Anier is now back on the march and eager to assert himself after making his first senior appearance in almost six months when he came off the bench in the 86th minute of last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Falkirk. “It was very good to get back on the pitch because it’s been a long time since my last official game,” the striker said. “Since then, it was pre-season, then I came here and got injured pretty much in the first few days. I thought I would have been back earlier but I still felt it for a while, so the physio told me to take it easy and not to rush back into it. It was just unfortunate but these things happen in football.
“It’s never easy when you’re out injured, especially when you’ve just arrived at a new club. But the physios were very good and I spoke with the manager, so there were only positive things around me. I’ve been working hard and I am happy now. I am fully fit and feeling good. I feel ready to start a game now but obviously the team is playing well and scoring goals so it will be hard to get in.”
Despite enduring a difficult time since helping Motherwell secure a second-place finish in the Premiership 19 months ago, Anier’s belief levels remain undiminished. A naturally ebullient and amiable character, it is evident from the reaction of team-mates as they walk past that he is a popular presence at Hibs’ East Mains training ground. Being part of a close-knit and buoyant dressing-room has helped him maintain a positive outlook throughout three months of recovery.
“I am a positive person,” he said. “I’ve been working hard every day and I will continue working hard, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t be confident. From the first day here, I’ve been made welcome. They are a good group of lads and good staff. We all get on really well. I’ve really enjoyed my time here and have a good relationship with everybody.”
In what was his first senior outing since appearing for Estonia in a friendly against Finland in mid-June, the striker’s cute flick-on set up Martin Boyle for a rousing stoppage-time equaliser against Falkirk. It was a welcome morale-booster for the striker, who turned 25 yesterday.
“I was really happy to make my debut and to be part of the goal,” he said. “We showed real spirit to get the goal and it might be a vital point at the end of the season. I just wanted to flick it into the danger area to see what happened. I’m not sure whether it would have gone in anyway but it was good that Boyley was in the right place at the right time.”
Anier is hopeful there will be plenty more of these game-influencing moments to come in a green-and-white shirt. He freely admits he has done little of note since leaving Motherwell. “I really enjoyed my time at Motherwell, when we finished second behind Celtic,” he said. “I went to Germany after that and it didn’t really work out. I came back to Dundee United and I wasn’t match fit because I hadn’t played for six months in Germany. I had a bad year last season but everyone has these kinds of spells in their career. I’m feeling good about myself now though and I think I will do well here.”
Anier, who is contracted to United until the summer, doesn’t anticipate being recalled by his parent club and is hopeful that he can do enough between now and the end of the season to open up the possibility of remaining with Hibs beyond the expiry of his loan deal.
“I don’t know what will happen in the future but just now I’m just taking it day by day,” he said. “I’m not thinking about what will happen in the long term, but I’ve really been enjoying it here. The coaches have been giving me new things to do to improve my game and I feel I can develop here. Every day I feel like I’m getting better as a player.
“To be honest, I don’t even know what the situation is [with regard to United being able to recall him]. That’s between the clubs. I’m not focusing on that. I’m just focused on being here and working as hard as I can and we will see where we are at the end of the season.”
As well as securing a long-term future for himself at club level, Anier is also battling to maintain his place in the plans of Estonia manager Magnus Pehrsson. “The national team have a small break until the friendlies in March and then we have the World Cup qualifiers in September,” he said. “I’ve still got a good bit of time to get back on the pitch at Hibs and start scoring goals. I’ve spoken to the national team coach recently and it’s just up to me to make sure I get myself playing as quickly as possible.”