Zavon Hines: Bouncing back from the brink of despair
Less than four years since last playing for England Under-21s, the former West Ham winger heads to Wembley with Bradford on Sunday after rediscovering his confidence thanks to the help of a sports psychologist and an understanding manager
Almost every player has his inner demons and almost every club has a way of helping clear them away. The Manchester City players are aware of the work of Paul McGee and his motivational best-sellers which implore them to be honest with themselves. Shut Up, Move On is the title of one volume they're all familiar with. Chelsea's strategy with Fernando Torres is to tell him to stop over-complicating things and to blame others less.
But the Bradford City manager, Phil Parkinson, will tell you that it's easier to help a player when he's on £100,000 a week than on the margins of football. What Sunday's League Cup finalists encountered when Zavon Hines walked through the door last summer was an individual whose self-belief had been crushed.
He was trying to pick up the pieces on a career which had crashed from its pinnacle of a two-goal England Under-21 debut, barely three years ago, to a search for redemption in professional football's lowest tier. Hines' close mates from his West Ham United academy days, Jack Collison and James Tomkins, told him he "shouldn't be playing down in League Two because I'm better than that", Hines relates. But the 24-year-old wasn't so sure when he first walked through the doors of Valley Parade.
Parkinson sensed that Hines had some self-belief to restore when he told his players about a young sports graduate he had worked with when manager at Colchester United and recommended another of that ilk – John Muranka – who has been around the Bradford scene since Peter Taylor's days as manager. Hines bit Parkinson's hand off.
"He said to me later, 'As soon as you mentioned a psychologist I couldn't get there quick enough'," Parkinson relates. "Players sometimes need help. Players at this level are playing for their futures. These players are not on big salaries. They worry about paying their mortgages and supporting the family."
For Hines, it was about reinstilling the self-worth which West Ham fans will remember seeing on the night he terrorised Jamie Carragher in Liverpool's 3-2 win in east London, just before his Under-21s call-up in October 2009.
A knee injury sustained the following January kept the winger out for the best part of a year but his belief that he deserved more football than Sam Allardyce was granting him led him to turn down a contract and move to Burnley in the Championship in the summer of 2011, for what turned out to be a professional catastrophe.
The Jamaican-born player started a mere two League Cup games all season for manager Eddie Howe, which was a dire type of inactivity for a 23-year-old, 200 miles from home in east Lancashire. "I'd go home and be upset for the rest of the day," Hines recalls. "Most things were happening because I wasn't playing."
Muranka has helped. "I spoke to him about how I used to feel; what I used to do," Hines says. "There were times when I'd be left out of the squad with no explanation. I was one of the best trainers but I'd just be left out of the squad. He just said I need to keep my head straight, that I'd probably reacted in a certain way."
It appears to have been a vicious circle: Hines reacting badly and Howe reacting to that. "When you're left out of the squad you don't feel part of it," Hines says. "So there's been times when I went home straight after the game, without saying, 'Congratulations'. With Eddie Howe that was a big thing. He probably thought my mentality wasn't right."
It has chastened a player who admits that "when you've played higher you have a bit of an ego and the mentality that 'I should be playing higher'." He acknowledges that his first thought when Bradford entered the reckoning was "I don't really want to play in League Two" and feels that there is not a whole galaxy of things to do in Bradford.
"It's different to London!" he says, though, as a young man lost in the North, he has learnt to find his own recreations. He is a natural history enthusiast, particularly keen on David Attenborough and his Africa series.
His rewards have been rich, of course: a part of one of lower league football's most extraordinary stories and, although he is not a guaranteed starter in League Two, the manager turned to him for both League Cup semi-final matches against Aston Villa. In some respects, the games against the Premier League sides – he started in the win on penalties against Wigan – have been easier than some of the League Two football.
"No disrespect to teams like Morecambe, but their pitch is not like ours," he says. "It's not easier, but more comfortable [against the Premier League sides]. I know what it's like to play them. I think I've had my best performances against them and others have said the same."
There'll be 17 of his London-based family heading west out to Wembley, where on Sunday he will be playing on the Wembley pitch for the first time since his second – and last – England Under-21s appearance, against Portugal. He cautiously posits the idea that the stage may be a way to prove to West Ham, a club he was desolate about leaving, that they failed to calibrate the depth of his talent.
But he is aware, too, of Swansea City's Leon Britton, another former young West Ham player who seemed to have the world at his feet, only to drop four leagues to Swansea and begin a 10-year climb to the top flight to display his wonderful talents with that club.
"Yes, I heard he used to play for West Ham," Hines says. "And watching him now he's just a very good player. It's encouraging to see him come through the leagues like that and he's done well. I've got belief in myself, too. But sometimes it's not just about belief. It's about who fancies you as well."
Hines factfile: Zavon's CV
Born 27 Dec 1988, Kingston, Jamaica
2007-11 West Ham United (3 goals in 31 matches)
2008 Coventry [loan] (1/7)
2011-12 Burnley (0/16)
2012 Bournemouth [loan] (1/8)
2012- Bradford City (1/28)
International career Two goals in two matches for England Under-21s in 2009.
* Zines scored on his West Ham debut 78 minutes against Macclesfield in 2008. After suffering a protracted knee injury, he returned to score a last-minute winner against Aston Villa in 2009 before again undergoing knee surgery.
* The forward was called up by Jamaica in 2009 but failed to play – before featuring for England Under-21s later that same year.
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