email@example.com Nik Tzanev’s bio on Twitter simply lists three things – football, surf and ski. But since opting to pursue his dream of being a professional footballer he has not been able to do the latter.
AFC Wimbledon’s League One opener last weekend might not have gone to plan in terms of a 2-1 loss to Rotherham, but it was still a proud occasion for the 22-year-old New Zealander.
Previous first-team experience had been gleaned from loans at Lewes and Potters Bar Town. But Tzanev took making his EFL bow in his stride – drawing plaudits from Dons boss Wally Downes for his performance.
With Nathan Trott, on loan from West Ham United, ruled out with a groin problem it has opened the door for the former Crystal Palace and Brentford youngster. Downes had previously discussed Tzanev making a temporary exit to gain more playing experience.
“There was talk of a loan but I think it would’ve been hard with our goalkeeper situation at the time – we had no-one to sit on the bench [Joe McDonnell has since re-signed on a short-term contract],” said Tzanev.
“Over pre-season the goalkeepers were getting half a game each – it was pretty equal. When a loan player comes in and that is the manager’s decision then it puts you at a disadvantage – but I applied myself and worked really hard during the off season so that I could take any opportunity.
“I knew on Friday that I was starting. I was really pleased.
“There were a few nerves leading up to it but I also knew I needed to relax in everything I did – like interacting with the crowd. They are the reason you have football, without them it wouldn’t be anything special. I wanted to clap them and also prove to them and the coaches that I merited my starting position.
“I thought I did well but I’ve got to take it game by game. I’m grateful for Wally having the trust to put me in.”
Wellington-born Tzanev moved to the UK at the age of nine.
Skiing and surfing are a world away from a game of golf, which is a popular hobby for a lot of footballers on these shores.
“My parents are really big into skiing – I started when I was three,” said Tzanev. “When my parents moved to England I would go skiing twice a year – up until I became a professional.
“It is a passion of mine. It’s frustrating that I can’t do it now but the sacrifice is worth it. It is an absolute no-no. So many people get bad knee injuries. Hopefully I will pick it up when I retire.
“We went to Austria a lot, my favourite place was Mayrhofen. We also went to the French Alps and sometimes Switzerland.
“I’m still able to do the surfing but if the waves are too big then that also limits me going out as much as I want to. I’ve been to Morocco, Portugal and Bali.”
Tzanev was released by the Bees in 2016. And he says that rejection means he doesn’t set targets now.
“It didn’t work out for me there and I’m just really happy it has worked out for me now,” explained Tzanev. “Because I was always waiting for that chance, training hard and going out on loan.
“I was at Brentford for five years and I got a one-year professional contract [before being let go].
“I just had to keep my head strong because it was not the best feeling being released from a club. I knew I had to push through that and the main thing was that it motivated me to prove people wrong who didn’t have faith in me.
“I went in just to train with Wimbledon and they needed a goalkeeper. They took me on a two-month trial and then I signed a two-year contract. I’ve got another year to go and that means I can focus on training and playing.
“Bayzo [Ashley Bayes, goalkeeping coach] has brought me along so much. From the day I first went in there training he had faith in me. I have to thank him for putting my name forward, saying I was ready to play the game on Saturday.
“Wally gave me a lot of praise after the game.
“I think we have to aim high this season, for sure. Because the performances we put in after Wally came in would have put us 13th in the league [over a full campaign]. If we do that again this year and kick on a bit more we can even push for promotion.”
PICTURES BY PAUL EDWARDS