As the ever controversial Vladimir Romanov era erupts again with stories of unpaid wages and players going on strike, the Jambos fans could be forgiven for reminiscing over happier times. The club’s last major coo was securing the 2006 Scottish Cup. Hitthebyline takes a look back at that successful Hearts team, and reveals where they are now.
Goalkeeper – Craig Gordon
The biggest success in this Hearts team; and the most expensive Jambo in history, Craig Gordon’s career continued to flourish after the success of 2006. Gordon played 139 times for Hearts, and is the youngest player ever to be named in the club’s Hall of Fame (aged just 24 at the time). The year after the Scottish Cup triumph, Sunderland broke the UK transfer record for a goalkeeper by signing Gordon for £9million. He’s been capped for Scotland 40 times, and played 87 times for Sunderland, despite falling out of favor on occasion. Serious injuries have hampered his career progress (in particular an 8-month layoff as a result of knee surgery) and the player has found himself surplus to requirements with the Black Cats. The arrival of Martin O’Neill at the club may positively impact his fortunes, but as it stands, the player’s contract is due to expire in the summer. Celtic and Arsenal are known to be interested in the player, and at just 28-years of age, Gordon’s best years are clearly still in front of him.
Defender – Robbie Neilson
After 13 years and 200 appearances for the Gorgie club, Neilson set off in search of a new challenge in 2009, ending up at Championship club Leicester City. Neilson was at the mainstay of Sven Goran Eriksson’s promotion challenging side in his first year at the club, making 19 starts that season. However, things too turned sour for Neilson as his first team opportunities were restricted to just a handful in the coming years. In February of this year, he was loaned out to League One club Brentford, where he made 15 appearances, the highlight of which was the Football League Trophy final (where the London club narrowly lost to Carlisle). Neilson was released by Leicester in May, and trained briefly with Falkirk and Burton Albion before making a welcome return to the SPL, joining Peter Houston’s Dundee United. The experienced defender has failed to capture the form at Hearts that endeared him to the fans and saw him capped for Scotland, but at 31-years old the player does have a few years left in him at the top level. Away from the field, Neilson has recently been banned from driving after being clocked at 106mph.
Defender – Steven Pressley (c)
The Scottish Cup victory proved to be the swan song of Pressley, as the infamous spat with Vladimir Romanov came to a head in the months that followed the final. After a phenomenal 271 appearances for Hearts, Pressley made the surprise switch to Celtic, having rejected offers from Championship sides Derby County and Charlton. Pressley was a formidable presence in the Celtic back-four, and went on to captain the side on several occasions. The highlight of his time in Glasgow’s East End was a Scottish Cup win in 2008. This etched Pressley into the history books as the first player to win the Scottish Cup with three different clubs. When his contract expired at Celtic, Pressley trained with several clubs to keep up his level of fitness, before signing a short-term deal with Falkirk. Upon his retirement as a player, he was handed the assistant manager’s job at Brockville, and eventually became the manager. ‘Elvis’ has had his ups and downs as a manager, but now seems to have turned the corner. In his first season he saw Falkirk relegated to the Scottish First Division, but he now has assembled a young team playing attractive football and challenging for promotion. Pressley is now regarded as one of the up and coming Scottish management talents, with many a close eye watching his progress.
Defender – Ibrahim Tall
This big Senegalese defender’s move to Tynecastle was fraught with controversy, as then manager George Burley had the player added to his squad against his wishes by owner Vladimir Romanov. Despite earning a huge £8,000 per week at the time, Tall spent much of his time on the bench or in the stand, appearing just 35 times in 3 years. In the 2005-2006 season he formed a strong central defensive partnership with Steven Pressley. Despite the relative success, the player was released in 2008 and signed for newly promoted Ligue 1 side FC Nantes. Tall was a regular in this side before making the move to Greece in 2010 to play for Larissa (not long after another SPL export, Maciej Zurawski, had parted ways with the Greek outfit.) Tall remains with Larissa to this day and is a regular starter under manager Chris Coleman .
Defender – Takis Fyssas
The capture of Fyssas’ signature was indeed a signal of intent as a resurgent Hearts then aimed to break the stranglehold of the Old Firm in Scottish football. The big Greek defender made a surprise move to Hearts from Benfica in 2005, at a time when clubs in the Bundesliga and English Championship were interested in the player. Fyssas was an integral part of the remarkable Greek triumph at Euro 2004, making his signing all the more impressive. He arguably peaked during his time at Tynecastle, both in terms of the standard of football he was playing at club level, and also that the player earned the majority of his 60 caps for Greece around that period of time. In 2007 he left the Edinburgh club in favour of a move to Greek giants Panathinaikos. After only a handful of games, Fyssas decided to retire and take on a coaching role with the Greek national side. He is currently the technical director of the Greek Football Federation (Hellenic Football Federation) based in Athens.
Midfielder – Deividas Česnauskis
A popular trait of the Romanov early years was to import several players from FBK Kaunas, one of which was Česnauskis. The Lithuanian’s contribution to the successful Scottish Cup campaign was notable, in that he scored the winning goal in a 2-1 win over Partick Thistle in the quarter final. Česnauskis appeared 68 times for Hearts in 4 years, but fell out of favour towards the end of his time in the capital. Due to injuries and poor form, the player found himself not featuring for over a year at Hearts, and eventually chose to leave in 2009, signing a two-year deal with Greek minnows Ergotelis. After a year there, he switched to Aris FC (also of Greece). The move again didn’t work out for the player, who’s since made an unusual move to the Azerbaijan Premier league outfit FC Baku. Česnauskis’ Scottish Cup winners medal has proved to be just the second honour of the player’s career, after winning the Russian Premier League with Lokomotiv Moscow in 2004.
Midfielder – Bruno Aguiar
Another Kaunas import, Bruno Aguiar, made his move to Hearts after finding himself bereft of opportunities at Benfica, and failing to secure a permanent move after a couple of loan deals in Portugal. Aguiar played an important part in the 2005/2006 SPL campaign run-in, having only joined the club in January 2006, he strung together several impressive performances, assisting Hearts to narrowly secure 2nd spot in the SPL, displacing Rangers by a single point. At the start of the following season, things soon went wrong for Aguiar. The midfielder was sent off in the Champions League qualifier against AEK Athens, and only weeks later he suffered a horrendous ankle injury that kept him out the game for 18 months. Aguiar was told he may never play again, but still managed to return and champion the Edinburgh club’s cause. The Portugese playmaker returned to action in October of 2008, managed to win the SPL player of the month award for December, and ended up as Hearts’ top scorer for the season with 7 goals. In 2009 his contract expired and he joined Cypriot side AC Omonia, where he’s become a fantastic success to this day. Aguiar has continued to endure injury problems, but played a huge part in helping Omonia to win the Cypriot League and Cup double last season.
Midfielder – Paul Hartley
Industrious midfielder Paul Hartley became a household name during his time at Hearts (2003-2007) after moving from St Johnstone on a free transfer. His tenacious, rugged style of play attracted plaudits from the Old Firm, major clubs in England, and kick-started his international career. The player went on to play 25 times for Scotland, and appeared 118 times for Hearts, scoring 31 times in the process. Although usually a reliable player, Hartley found himself on the receiving end of a red card in the 2006 Scottish Cup final. Possibly his most memorable match for the Jam Tarts was the Scottish Cup semi-final against arch-rivals Hibernian, as the Scotsman scored his first hat-trick as a professional footballer in a 4-0 mauling at Hampden. Another impressive year was spent at Hearts before Celtic took the plunge and purchased the player for £1.1million. Then Celtic manager Gordon Strachan was a huge fan of Hartley, usually deploying the player in a defensive ball-winning midfield role. His highlight in Glasgow was helping to guide the club to the SPL championship in the 2007-2008 season, where the Bhoys had to (and subsequently did) win all of their remaining 8 league fixtures, two of which were against Rangers, to clinch the title. In 2009, new Celtic manager Tony Mowbray released Hartley, and the player joined Bristol City for a single season. Hartley scored in his debut and held his own for the Championship club, but cited a desire to return to Scotland as the catalyst to join Aberdeen the following season. At 34-years old, time was against Hartley, but he was nonetheless appointed club captain, and scored a hat-trick of penalty kicks in his debut for the Dons against Hamilton in a 4-0 win. He turned out 24 times for Aberdeen during the 2010-2011 season, but decided to retire from playing after suffering a medial knee ligament injury. Hartley is currently the manager of Scottish 3rd Division side Alloa Athletic. He’s guided the team to the top of the league after 17 games, having lost just twice, and has registered himself as a player (despite as yet never picking himself, and previously saying he’d retired), so the fans of the Wasps met yet see Hartley pull on the boots in their fight for promotion into the 2nd Division.
Attacking Midfielder – Rudi Skacel
Cultured Czech international Rudi Skacel is the only player of the 2006 starting XI who currently still plays his football at Tynecastle. The Scottish Cup final win was to be Skacel’s last game for Hearts before joining up with former Hearts manager George Burley at Southampton, after his stellar form attracted a £1.6million bid from the Championship club. Skacel found himself being deployed mostly as a left-back to fill the void filled by the departure of Gareth Bale to Spurs. He appeared 81 times in 3 seasons for Southampton before three somewhat fruitless transfers to the continent. The first of which was a loan deal, taking him to Hertha Berlin. Here the talented attacker played 16 times but didn’t convince the Germans to splash the cash and bring him in on a permanent basis. Southampton found themselves relegated, and to save cash, Skacel was one of many players who was released. Next up was a move to his former club Slavia Prague, but Skacel made just 5 appearances before being released, and picked up by Greek side Larissa. This deal too didn’t work out for the Czech as his chances were limited to just 7 appearances before Hearts made the bold move to resign the player for an undisclosed fee in 2010. A return debut made in heaven was to ensue, as he scored against Rangers. Since then, he’s been a regular in the Hearts team and recaptured the form that attracted a wide range of attention in the first place. The long term future of Skacel looks extremely unclear, as Hearts financial problems continue to mount up, and the player’s contract is due to expire in the coming weeks – it may well be the case that Rudi Skacel’s time at Hearts is about to come to an end.
Striker – Roman Bednar
The tall figure of Roman Bednar was a revelation during his time at Tynecastle, finding a knack of scoring in big games regularly. Bednar netted on his debut against Kilmarnock, scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Rangers, and netted a brace against Celtic at Tynecastle in a 2-1 for the Gorgie club (to name but a few scalps of his). The Czech international played another season at Hearts after the Scottish Cup win, before being snapped up initially on loan, then on a permanent basis by Championship promotion hopefuls West Bromwich Albion. The striker spent 3 seasons at West Brom, one of which in the Premiership, making over 100 appearances, and finding the back of the net 34 times. Bednar fell out of favour at the Hawthorns last season, and made a short-term loan move to fellow Championship side Leicester City. Following this, a £1.2 million offer from Bristol City was accepted for the tall forward, but he failed to agree personal terms and joined Turkish side Ankaragucu for the remainder of the season. Surprisingly, despite not being a regular starter, he’s agreed a contract extension at West Brom until the end of the current season. At just 28, there’s much hope yet for Bednar to make as big an impact on the game in England as he did in Scotland.
Striker – Edgaras Jankauskas
This well travelled striker didn’t stay in the one place for too often at all. His time at Hearts was a two-season long loan from FBK Kaunas, but this doesn’t begin to tell the story of his wealth of experience. Jankauskas turned out for no less than 16 different clubs in his professional career, including CSKA Moscow, Porto, Benfica, Nice and Real Sociedad. His experience and guile helped to no end during the 2005-2006 season, as the player, alongside the powerful Bednar, steamrollered through defenses regularly. His time in Scotland proved to be the last, significant length of time the player seemed settled at any club. At 6ft 4, his stature made him an ideal target man, but he only managed 9 goals in two years at the Gorgie club. The Scottish Cup winners medal belonging to Jankauskas will be dwarfed in terms of importance next to the Champions League winners medal he obtained during his time at Porto in 2004, and the Uefa Cup winners medal he won in 2003. His success with Porto to this day makes Jankuskas the only Lithuanian ever to have won the Champions League. His international career too was remarkable, representing his country regularly over a career spanning 17 years. After departing Hearts in 2007, he played half a season for Greek side AEK Larnaca. This was followed by more short term moves to Belenenses of Portugal, Skonto Riga of Latvia, Vilnius of his native Lithuania, New England Revolution of the USA, and finally FC Fakel Voronezh of Russia before retiring. It could be said that Hearts parted company at the correct time, as the striker managed on average less than 10 appearances per club, and less than 3 goals per club after leaving the SPL. Jankauskas now holds the rather unusual role of Assistant Manager/Translator for Lokomotiv Moscow, who finished 6th last year in the Russian Premier League.