As Motherwell look to bounce back from one of their most disappointing results when they face Celtic tonight, Henri Anier can draw on a wealth of past experience of overcoming adversity.
The 22-year-old has already played his football in four countries having left home while still at school to move to Italy.
A permanent switch to Sampdoria eventually fell through but Anier showed he could recover from adversity as he made his name back in Estonia with a prolific and trophy-laden spell with Flora to earn his move abroad.
When that switch to Viking Stavanger turned into a frustrating spell on the sidelines, Anier came back again with loan moves in Norway and to Motherwell helping him ignite his international career.
Anier has scored five goals for Motherwell since joining, initially on trial in July, and that form has been repeated on the international stage to help him become Estonia’s top goalscorer in 2013.
The dream of playing abroad that he is now realising saw the striker initially move away from his family as a teenager to join Serie A side Sampdoria in August 2009.
“It wasn’t easy at all,” Anier said. “Nobody could speak English there and I had to learn Italian and a different culture. But it was great experience for me as a footballer and as a normal person.
“I try to take positives from every experience. That’s what makes you stronger.
“It was my last year in high school. I still managed to do it over the Internet. I flew back home to do exams in April and May then went back to Italy. I did a lot of work myself.”
Anier did not think twice about setting off for a foreign land aged 18.
“It was almost the last transfer window day in August so I didn’t have much time to think about it,” he said. “I wanted to be a footballer and it was a great opportunity for me.
“I took it and if I think back now I think just positive things. Of course it was really hard but I managed to finish school and get experience there. That has helped me grow as a footballer and as a person.”
While life off the park in Genoa had its challenges, the football was an exhilarating experience.
Anier learned some goalscoring tips from the likes of Italy strikers Antonio Cassano – who had come to Sampdoria via spells at Roma and Real Madrid – and Giampaolo Pazzini, who subsequently went to Inter and is now with AC Milan.
“That was the crazy thing,” he said. “Life wasn’t easy but everybody loved football, every person in the street. Sampdoria is a big, big club.
“Cassano was there and I trained with him and Pazzini as well – great players and I learned a lot from them. I got to train with the first team one day a week.
“Cassano didn’t speak much English but the first day I was training with him we paired up as strikers. I scored and after that he passed the ball to me.
“He came over to me after training and took me over the shoulder and said: ‘Henri, bravo’. He asked me if I understood Italian and I said ‘a little bit’. He said: ‘You don’t understand anything apart from bravo’. It was a really good experience.”
Anier had left Flora for Sampdoria in a loan deal with a view to a permanent move but the clubs could not reach agreement and Anier found himself back in Tallinn the following year.
However, Anier responded with determination to become a regular goalscorer for Flora and a title winner in both 2010 and 2011.
“Sampdoria liked me and then it was between my old club and them and I don’t know what happened,” he said. “It was a really enjoyable year but I had to go back.
“It was a big disappointment. I heard they wanted me and Sampdoria was a big club. But when I went back home I did well for a year and a half and scored a lot of goals and went to Norway.
“I went abroad and saw I could play at this level and did well. When I went back home my opinion was to get back out again. It was nice to be back with my family and I finished school so that was good. I scored a lot of goals and we became champions and I went to Norway.”
That move was to Viking, Anier’s current parent club, and he again has had to show his mental strength to get to a situation where he is leading goalscorer for his national team this season.
“The manager who bought me was a really good manager, Age Hareide,” the forward said. “They really liked me. I scored five goals in pre-season and did well.
“Then we didn’t play so well at the start of the season. Then the manager got sacked and a new manager came in.
“For me it suits to play up front with someone. The new manager came in and just didn’t appreciate me. It wasn’t easy. That’s football.
“I went on loan to Fredrikstad, in the division below, and they are a big club in Norway. I did really well there, scored five goals and I really enjoyed it.
“Then I had the chance to go to Motherwell. This year has been really great for me. I have scored four goals for the national team and five goals for Motherwell now, so it’s been great.
“I am really happy. I really appreciate McCall and Kenny Black, they are great managers and I really enjoy working with them.
“I have really enjoyed my time here. Hopefully I can stay longer but that’s between the clubs and we will see what happens in the future. I don’t know anything.
“There is still a month to go and I am just focusing on what happens on the pitch. Viking have been in touch a bit but nothing concrete.”
Anier’s form for his country – he has five goals in 13 internationals in all – means Motherwell are still a topic of much interest among Estonian football fans after Anier replaced his international team-mate Henrik Ojamaa at Fir Park.
“They are really interested in Motherwell in the media,” Anier said. “Henrik, my good friend was here before. They really know how I’m doing and what I’m doing.”
Anier’s friendship with Ojamaa – now at Legia Warsaw – stretches back to his first steps as a footballer.
“We have played some games together for the national team. Not together up front because he has been playing right wing. It’s been really fun though because we first played together when we were five years old.
“Henrik came to the same training as me for a few years when we were young. There was a big break after we were about nine. Henrik went away with his brother and we had different coaches but we played together for the under-15 national team and after some more time apart we played together in the national team.
“It was a really good feeling to represent our country together. We talk a lot. He told me a lot of things about Motherwell and it helps. Of course there could have been pressure for me but we are totally different players and people.”
Anier’s varied football journey hit an obstacle last weekend like all of his Motherwell team-mates when they were on the end of a shock William Hill Scottish Cup defeat by Albion Rovers.
But Anier knows well from experience that the only way to cast disappointment aside is through determination and by creating happier memories on the park.
“It was a shock for everyone in the team,” he said. “It was really difficult mentally and emotionally. But life goes on and we have to get our heads up again.
“Obviously football has ups and downs. But Motherwell supporters are great fans and they are always supporting us. We must stick together.
“The gaffer said on Monday morning that we have five points more than we had at this time last year.
“We have done well in the league, some ups and downs, but we have a good all-round team and good coaches. We are third in the league, we have only the league left now and we have to focus on the league.
“From here we have to get our heads up again. We have a really important game on Friday, it’s a home game and we have to go for a win. We have to forget this game and get ready for Friday.”
Article: Gavin McCafferty (vs Celtic Matchday Magazine)