IN trademark unassuming fashion, Miguel Pallardo is finally beginning to assert himself in the Hearts midfield.
A controlled but authoritative display against Aberdeen last week was his best for several months. Injury has hindered his season so far but the Spaniard appears to be finding form at a crucial time.
He knows the business end of the campaign is approaching; the February-March-April period when good teams and good players come into their own. If success is to be achieved at Tynecastle, either via European qualification or a Scottish Cup win, Pallardo’s influence will be vital.
He is happy to report that the Achilles problem which denied him a proper pre-season has subsided. He has grown fitter and stronger in recent weeks and showed against Aberdeen why he is such a highly valued member of Robbie Neilson’s first-team squad.
Pallardo’s focus is fixed firmly on league matters for now as he aims to help Hearts achieve a lofty finish in their first year back in the Ladbrokes Premiership. He believes the potential to secure a Europa League qualifying place is there, but only if he and his colleagues take one step at a time. Tomorrow’s visit of Motherwell is therefore a crucial fixture against a the league’s most in-form side.
“I think this team at Hearts has the quality to be in second place or stay in third,” said the 29-year-old, giving a rare and exclusive interview to the Evening News. “It’s important not to think too much about the future and think in the present. Now, we have Motherwell and it’s a hard game at home. We have to go forward step by step and game by game.
“Right now, Motherwell are strong. In the Premiership in Scotland, there aren’t any easy games. You need to be fit and be ready to win games. Last week against Aberdeen is not important now. This is another game and we have to give all our focus to this game.”
Squad rotation is something he is prepared to accept given the calibre of those fighting for his position. Neilson must juggle resources to keep Pallardo, Morgaro Gomis, Prince Buaben and Arnaud Djoum happy with their quota of midfield game time. Pallardo is simply happy to be in there competing again after overcoming his injury troubles.
“I feel good now and the Achilles problem is behind me,” he said with a smile. “I didn’t do a pre-season because of the injury. An Achilles problem is hard so it was difficult to be in good shape. I haven’t had any problems so, as times passes, I feel better and stronger. With training and games, I am feeling fitter and my condition is better.
“Every player wants to play but there are lots of good players in the team. The team needs rotation to keep every player focused in their heads. It’s good to keep everybody fit and motivated.”
Supplementing his happiness are events at his home in Edinburgh. Pallardo’s sons, Adrian and Daniel, are learning English and are even becoming more comfortable with the language than their father. The player’s command is improving but he enjoys nothing better than listening to his offspring practice their Scottish accents. It is one of the reasons he hopes to sign a new contract to remain at Hearts beyond the end of the season.
“My family is happy here. When I listen to my [eldest] son speaking English, I feel even more happy,” explained Pallardo. “He goes to school and he has a lot of friends. After school, they meet and they come to my home to play. His Scottish pronunciation is better than mine. It was a good decision last year for us to come here, for my family, for my children and for me. I think it’s good for him to stay here for a few years and learn English.”
Of course, the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Certainly not in Scotland. A biting cold winter has taken hold of late, resulting in Pallardo, Juanma Delgado and Juwon Oshaniwa arriving at Riccarton wrapped up like Eskimos each day. “It’s hard. When I speak with my family and friends, they say: ‘Here in Valencia it is 18 degrees and I am going out with a t-shirt and shorts on’. It’s different here but Edinburgh is a very nice city. I enjoy the football here and being with my family so the weather isn’t a problem. My family watch the Hearts matches on television. My sister’s boyfriend is an IT technician. He looks to find out where they can watch the game and he puts the game on TV for my family back home.”
The viewing should get slightly easier now Pallardo is feeling fully fit. “My No.1 target is the league. I’m not thinking in the future, I’m thinking in the present and I’m thinking about Motherwell. It’s true that the team wants to win a trophy. It is always important to win trophies, but I don’t think too far into the future. I think in the present.”