In August, Saint Lucian footballer Zaine Pierre signed with a new club. It meant a change of scenery, a new league, a change of formation, new teammates, a new coach (and since then the new coach has been replaced by another new coach). But most of all, for the 23-year-old from La Pointe, Dennery viewed this season as a chance to finally show what he is made of.
Zaine’s new club is Associazione Sportiva Dilettantistica San Felice Normanna, informally known as Aversa Normanna, or even just Aversa. Zaine – more formally Hakeem Zaine Pierre – plays in the centre of a three-man mifdfield for coach Salvatore Marra. Based in Campania, the club is part of the new Lega Pro (South Division). It is the equivalent of Serie C or the third division in Italy.
Two months, as far as team results go, it’s been tough at the Stadio Augusto Bisceglia. But the Italian press and the Aversa media cohort view Zaine as the one bright spot in a dark season.
“Only five points from 12 matches, the result of five draws, and a demoralized environment that continues to demand… the salvation that is becoming, for almost a thousand days, a mirage. It has not been a bright championship so far for Aversa. Among the highlights, however, is Zaine Pierre.”
“He does not seem bothered playing against stronger teams. Everything Aversa does goes through him. It was a great first half for him, but he cannot do much alone. He is the light of this team. We have not seen a mistake yet; he is always balanced.”
“The defense seems to take for granted the presence of Zaine Pierre. He offers interesting insights to the game, and, thanks to his tactical intelligence, can make a valuable contribution in the middle without compromising on his defensive duties.”
Glowing tributes, for sure. Zaine is responsible for breaking up opposition play, whether via tackle or interception, then turning defense to attack at once, carrying the ball forward or making an incisive pass. It is a lot more responsibility than he has ever been given, and a role in which he is not especially experienced; yet he is excelling… despite playing, as one scribe put it, “in the desert.”
But for Zaine, all he ever needed was a chance.
Last season he made his debut in the Serie B / Second Division with Messina. Prior to that, he trained extensively with Serie A team, Genoa, but never got a game. The difference in this season, he says, has been his health.
“I haven’t gotten a major injury this season, thank God. Last two seasons, I did two major surgeries and that held me back – didn’t allow me to show much. But I kept on praying and asked God to give me just a few games so that everyone can know Zaine Pierre is still here. And that’s exactly what he has done, and I’m grateful. Staying fit is my only goal for the season the rest will speak for itself.”
Of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the former Richfond Combined and Vieux Fort Comprehensive student is ready to carpe some diem. Sitting out large chunks of those last two seasons, Zaine says, has honed his desire to excel.
“I’m one who takes my job really seriously,” he says. “Even when I’m not playing, I’m studying, in all ways you can think of. Being out of the game these two years made me angry, made me develop that hunger to prove something.”
Saint Lucians or observers at his former Trinidad & Tobago Pro Leauge club, W Connection FC, might recall Zaine as an attacking player, sitting behind the forwards. But he says that although he has always felt he was capable of performing in his new position, playing in Italy has helped tremendously.
“I just keep working as I always do,” he says. “What you have seen from me is nothing compared to what I have grown to be. I can play in any part of the field, but I have worked really hard on my defensive part of the game which helped a lot. just being in Italy has helped, because the football is tough… really tough. It’s ‘Go hard or go home.'”
Speaking of home, the bronze-haired ‘mastiff’ says he is looking forward to some home cooking for the Christmas break. During that time, he told SNO that he is eager to catch up with those who have supported, encouraged and assisted him along the way, including Ras Isley, his home community, his adopted community of La Clery, his friends and teammates on the national team, all of his past coaches and his friends from Dennery.
“Most of all, I am looking forward to spending time with friends and family,” Zaine muses. “I am so grateful and thankful for where I am. Sooner or later you have to make a choice… leave behind your passion, your dream – or have the strength to look past all discouraging faces, look at yourself and know that you have what it takes… and you will prove them wrong.”
Several observers at Aversa think his future is in Serie A. That would be amazing, and is entirely within the realm of possibility if, as reported, there are at least two clubs in the top division watching him closely. But all that is or may be in the future. What is certain is that right now, at last, Zaine Pierre is finally playing out his dreams in Serie C.