By Sporté Avis
Coach Alban Estephane remembers clearly when, at five or six years old, the sprightly youngster would rush across to the field without his mother’s knowledge. “She would come running to the field soon after,’ he recalls, and the smirk on his face as he says it gives the indication that some scolding followed. She would allow him to stay, hesitantly, and he’d take the opportunity to train as hard as he could since he knew that Miss Charmaine would be back soon to order him to return home. He idolised the great Brazilian and former Barcelona legend, Ronaldinho. He would go out onto the field every chance he got, to practice all the latest tricks he observed from watching the legend on television. “He did not know how to give up, he did not want to give up,” Coach Estephane mused, recalling the youth’s unrelenting drive to perfect his game at such a young age.
Anyone who knew Zaine Pierre when he was growing up knew what his ultimate goal in life was. As a student of the Vieux Fort Comprehensive Secondary (VFCSS) he would pick up a ball every chance he got. It wasn’t very long before a certain Coach Ras Isley took note of Zaine’s talent, and drafted him into the National U17 team at just 12 years old. His extraordinary achievements continued and he made the National U21 team at 14, becoming vice captain, and captain at 15. He captured the National Junior Footballer of the Year award in 2008.
“Ras Isley got a lot of criticism for drafting a 12 year old into the team; he was the only who believed in me and I proved myself.’’ says Zaine.
He continued to impress, receiving rave reviews from people involved in sports development in St Lucia. His performances also got him recognised regionally, as coach of the Trinidad-based club, W Connections, Stuart Charles-Fevrier contacted Zaine’s mother about the possibility of getting him to Trinidad for a trial. Miss Pierre was a strong advocate of a good education, so it is no surprise that she had second thoughts about allowing him to invest so much time in football. It was his enthusiasm and self-confidence that convinced the management of W Connections to sign him up after just FIVE minutes during his first trial match. Incredible, I know! Remarkably, at 16 Zaine started off in a team that included nine T&T national players.
When referred to as a young phenomenon, Zaine’s response was humble:
“I’m not a phenomenon, I’m Zaine Pierre.’’
Zaine has fond memories of his time in Trinidad, stating that the improved facilities and training techniques he learned led to an overall improvement in his game.
It was in Trinidad that Zaine took the next step of his career. During his time there, he secured his place in trials with a few Premier League clubs in England, as well as Major League Soccer side, San Jose Earthquakes. A move to England didn’t materialize due to complications in acquiring a work permit. Since Zaine’s dream was always to play in Europe, a move to the MLS did not seem appealing to him at the time. He did not have to wait long however, as through his agent he was able to secure another trial, this time with Serie A club Genoa in Italy. On arriving in Italy, Zaine was as eager as ever to do his best, and recalls feeling no additional pressure.
“I had no expectations really. I just went to do my best, and just go with it. Whatever happened, happened,” he said.
Zaine had some difficulty on the first day of his trial, as the language barrier left him confused on the field. That issue was resolved for the duration of the trial, as he was able to make a good impression.
“The Director came up to me to ask how I liked it at Genoa so far. I said that I didn’t know. He replied that I better know, because I’m not going anywhere.”
He went on to sign up with the Genoa Academy, something which he remains proud of. He has become quite versed in the Italian language, which has helped him communicate more effectively with his teammates and coaches.
On January 19, 2014, Zaine would take another step in his professional career when he was called up to the Genoa senior squad for the first time in a match against Inter Milan. When St Lucians caught wind of this development, they took to social media to express their sheer delight at the news. He didn’t get to make his dream debut during the match, but St Lucians revelled in their pride nonetheless. Zaine was touched when he heard how excited his fellow St Lucians were about his achievement, and he describes it as surreal.
“It was a very emotional moment for me, to be honest. When I think back at all I had gone through, all the injuries – two surgeries in as many years – making the senior team showed that all my hard work was paying off, and made me want to strive for even more,” said Zaine.
He did not let this distract him however, and he agreed to two loan deals to 4th division team Messina and 3rd division team Aversa Normanna to further improve his game. A few injuries aside, he played more at Messina and Aversa where the personal attention he received proved to be very comforting.
“I felt like a little fish in a big pond at Genoa, but at Messina, the fans and staff saw me as a very important player for them.”
Zaine describes Italy as a nice place to live, where the people are friendly, but in his words, “There is no place like home.”
He admits that being seen as a role model is a privilege, but stresses the importance of independence as a key factor to achieving success.
“Young athletes growing up should let their drive and hunger for success stem from themselves, and not from anyone like a role model. Self-motivation was a key factor to my success, as I sought to prove the doubters wrong.”
When asked what his views are on the sports program in St Lucia, football specifically, he says the sport is not where it should be at present. Zaine believes that the football program in St Lucia requires much needed external support from foreign coaches and from countries who have established football structures.
Dazzle Magazine wishes Zaine all the best in his footballing pursuits!