After five years playing in Cyprus, Bruno Aguiar is back in his native Lisbon.
“It is beautiful here, my friend. This is the best country in the world,” he bellows down the phone. If Portugal is the best, then Aguiar considers Scotland a close second. He can’t wait to return to Edinburgh next month for a long overdue reunion five years since he left Hearts.
The midfielder is now 33 and, contrary to his Wikipedia page, has not retired from football. He is playing with Oriental Lisbon in Portugal’s Segunda Liga and enjoying the familiarity of his home city. Next month, he will jet across to his second home as a headline name for the Big Hearts Big Reunion charity event, aimed at raising funds for the club’s community operation.
Aguiar has not been back in Edinburgh since leaving Hearts for Omonia Nicosia in June 2009. He spent three-and-a-half years at Tynecastle and etched his name in club history as a member of the 2006 Scottish Cup-winning team. He suffered, and recovered from, serious injury there and became steeped in a club which remains dear to him to this day.
Temperatures in Lisbon are currently topping 20 degrees but Aguiar will swap the sunshine and shorts for a few days of winter gales and rain in Edinburgh. He will be warmly welcomed back along with many others, including Thomas Flogel, Danny Grainger, Craig Beattie, Jose Quitongo and Henry Smith for a reunion in the Gorgie Suite on November 15. Aguiar explains why he didn’t hesitate when Big Hearts PR officer Craig Wilson called.
“Since I left Hearts, I’ve never forgotten,” he says. “I had very good times and I keep Hearts in my mind. I see the results and I know the club’s situation. When they invited me, I said yes because I want to help the people. I know the people like me there so I thought I should go.
“I enjoyed everything in Edinburgh. Only the weather was a problem,” he laughs. “I don’t really like the weather but the city is good and the people are very friendly. It was a very good time in my life. It was difficult in the beginning but with time, and after I learned to speak English, it was much easier.
“I want to go back because I know what the people there think about me. They remember when I played good football in my last season in Scotland and I think the people like me. I know the reunion is very important for the club and for the situation there now. That’s why I want to come back. I lived there five years ago and I’ve never gone back. This is a good opportunity to see people again, speak with them and remember some great memories.”
Aguiar’s footballing profile is much lower now despite him being a well-recognised player around Lisbon. Cup-winning parties and stunning free-kicks at Easter Road are consigned to history. Likewise the five major trophies he won in Cyprus. He signed a one-year contract with Oriental in the summer and finds himself in the midst of a relegation battle in Portugal’s second tier.
Oriental are the smallest of Lisbon’s five clubs, ranked behind Aguiar’s formative club Benfica, plus Sporting, Belenenses and Atletico. Their modest ground to the east of the city near the banks of the River Tagus holds just 8000 people. “It’s not a big name but it’s a good club. We are down near the bottom of the table,” says Aguiar.
In fact, they are third bottom and in the relegation zone. “My target was to go back to Portugal and stay in my city and I found this club,” continues the midfielder. “The coach wanted me so I signed for one year. I decided to break my contract in Cyprus because I had been there for many years and I was tired being away from Portugal. I decided it was time to finish in Cyprus and come home.
“I still have plenty motivation. I just love to play football and I still feel this way. That is why I went to the second division. The main thing I want is to play football in my city and in my country. I wanted to be at home to be near my family and my friends. Portugal doesn’t have the same money as England and Spain and all these countries, but we have good players. The football is not as competitive now as it was before because the best players have gone to bigger clubs in different countries. We still have a good championship.”
Time is running out, for Aguiar will be 34 when his Oriental contract expires, but Hearts supporters would love to see one final fling back in Gorgie. The player still regards his last season in maroon, 2008/09, as his best after 18 months out with a career-threatening ankle injury.
“Maybe my last year, when I scored a lot of goals and we got into third position. I think that was the best memory,” he says. “I had been out for more than one year with a very hard injury and when I came back I had a fantastic season. That was a good time for me and I will always remember it. I still keep in touch with [Christos] Karipidis, who was with me in Cyprus, and I also speak with Jose [Goncalves].”
So what about a permanent return? “Why not? Maybe yes. We will see what happens in the future. At this time, my target is to stay in Portugal but the future you never know. I like Hearts and if they really wanted me, we will see. Right now I will stay in Portugal.”
• The Big Hearts Big Reunion takes place on Saturday, November 15, in Tynecastle’s Gorgie Suite from 8pm-1am. The night will be hosted by broadcaster Tom Miller and will feature an auction, raffle, disco and guest speaker Bill Copeland. Tickets are available now, priced £20 each. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact @heartscommunity on Twitter or try the Big Hearts Facebook page.