Ruben Palazuelos wants to keep Ross County in the Scottish Premiership for two reasons. First, he could earn a new contract if the Dingwall club avoid relegation. Then he would prepare for an emotional return to Tynecastle to face former club Hearts next season.
The Spanish midfielder arrived in the Highlands in January on a four-month contract. His instructions were to help County stay in the league, where they sit six points adrift of St Mirren and Motherwell at the bottom. They meet the Lanarkshire club this weekend at the Global Energy Stadium in what is certain to be a tension-filled six-pointer.
For Palazuelos, now 31, the possibility of playing at Tynecastle again is also a huge incentive. He spent four years in Edinburgh between 2007 and 2011 and recalls them as the best times of his life. With Hearts 19 points clear at the top of the Championship and heading towards promotion, he hopes fate will conspire to permit him a reunion.
“The first target is to help Ross County stay in the Premiership. The second is to think about me,” Palazuelos told the Evening News. “I hope I play many games and play at a good level and after the season we can see what happens. I’m thinking about what happens in the next two or three months with Ross County and about my future.
“I hope I can stay in Scotland because I like this football and this style of life. Also, maybe next season I can play against Hearts and go back to Tynecastle again. That would be very nice for me.
“I have played in many countries and I had offers from clubs in other countries in January, but I always said I hoped to go back to Scotland one day. Ross County gave me the possibility to come back.
“I have played in seven countries in my career [Spain, Greece, Scotland, Bulgaria, Finland, England and Cyprus] and my best time as a football player, the best time of my life with family and friends, was when I played at Hearts. For this reason I decided to come back to this country. I like the football here.”
So much so that he is thinking of buying property in the Scottish Capital. “I have properties in Spain but I am thinking of buying an apartment in Edinburgh for renting. I think it would be good to spend the money and buy a place in Edinburgh for the future, for me and my family. I will do this soon.”
House-hunting is partly why it is no easy task pinning Palazuelos down for an interview. His wife and two daughters are at home in Spain but will visit next month, and he is determined to be out of his Inverness hotel and in an apartment by then. When he isn’t training or playing, he is scouring property, attending English school, sharing coffee with team-mates or reading about Diego Maradona. The player likes to keep himself busy.
“At nine o’clock I go to the academy [at the Global Energy Stadium] and I’m not back to the hotel until four o’clock. It’s like Spain, where you spend all day at the academy. In the afternoon I meet with some players for coffee, I read a book, I speak with my family and I use the computer. I have started English school to improve my English and to do something positive with my time. At the moment, I am happy here. I don’t spend my time being bored in the hotel. That is important for my head.
“The book is about Diego Maradona and about his life. I don’t read many books so when I start a book it must be about sport or something I like.
“When I started my career, I didn’t think I would play in so many different countries. Football has changed, especially in the last few years. It’s not easy and it’s not like it was before with the money. This is what I have to do and my family understand.
“The most difficult thing is being away from my family. I don’t see my children for one or two months but I am doing this for them and for the future, so that they can have a better life. Of course it’s difficult but this is football. Your career is not so long so maybe I only have another three or four years more.
“I have to take this and see what happens because there is always time to go home and do everything with the family.”
Being alone in strange, quiet surroundings does not seem to faze Palazuelos. Tapiola in Finland, where he played with FC Honka two years ago, has a population less than 10,000. Somerset, where he spent time with Yeovil Town last year, is more leafy than lively. Dingwall isn’t exactly a hive of activity either, hence most Ross County players live in Inverness. Yet the Spaniard gives the impression he enjoys the tranquillity and picturesque surroundings.
Regardless of the environment, he is here for footballing reasons. Palazuelos believes County have the wherewithal to overhaul the six-point gap and preserve their top-flight status.
“It’s better to live in nice cities like Edinburgh but I take what a team is going to pay me and what the offer is. I don’t think about whether the city is nice or not, I only think about doing well for the team,” he continued. “I signed for Ross County on the Thursday and two days later I played 30 minutes against Inverness in the derby match. I wasn’t expecting to play because my transfer [clearance] only arrived on the Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. I really enjoyed the derby match with all the passion involved.
“We have 14 games still to play and we are close to St Mirren and Motherwell. I believe we can stay up because we have a good team and good players. Saturday is one our most important games of the season. If we get three points against Motherwell we get closer to them and then we can compete in the next few games. I hope the team is fighting till the end to stay in the Premiership.”