Igor Rossi insists Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson is Scotland’s Manager of the Year. Surprisingly, Neilson has not been nominated for the award by PFA Scotland, but Rossi feels this season’s success at Tynecastle makes him the outstanding candidate.
Falkirk’s Peter Houston, Rangers’ Mark Warburton, Jim McIntyre of Ross County and the Peterhead coach Jim McInally are the four Manager of the Year nominees. Despite steering Hearts to European qualification in their first season back in the Premiership, Neilson was overlooked.
Ahead of tomorrow’s match with Celtic at Tynecastle, Rossi declared that his manager’s achievements this year deserve more recognition. The Brazilian believes the Manager of the Year award should indisputably be heading to Gorgie.
“Robbie is a very good coach. He was a good coach in the Championship last year and took Hearts back to the Premiership. Now we are in the Europa League, so I think Robbie is manager of the year,” said Rossi, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“It’s very hard to qualify for Europe in your first season in the Premiership. Last year, Hearts won the Championship. Now they are in the Premiership and we have qualified for Europe. It is very difficult to do that.”
Rossi revealed how Neilson helped him become a more accomplished defender after signing him last summer as a free agent. Attention to detail from the head coach, who works one-on-one with players frequently, has been telling.
“Robbie has been very important for me,” continued Rossi. “From the first day I came to Hearts, he has spoken to me every day and showed my videos to make me better. We have watched different videos of different players to look and see what I should do. He tells me where to move and what position to play. He is a teacher for me every day.”
The progress in Rossi’s game led to him being named Hearts Players’ Player of the Year at the club’s awards dinner last Sunday. Consistent and dependable displays earned the 27-year-old mounting respect from his colleagues, not to mention an extended contract until May 2017, signed in December.
“At first, it was a surprise but I am very happy to get that award,” said the player, whose English is improving steadily. “I have to thank all the players and the coaches at Hearts because we have had a very good season. For me individually, I am playing good games and I am very happy.
“Scotland has been a big success for me. In the movie in my head, it’s very different here. I came to play in the Premiership and I knew it would be different for me.
“I think this is my best season in football so far because I play in every game. I feel like an important player. At my last club, Maritimo, I didn’t play every game, which was the decision of the coach. This season has been so good for me because every week I play, I play, I play. It’s different.”
He was very much a peripheral figure in Portgual but nevertheless gleaned some useful European experience. Maritimo’s Europa League campaign in season 2012/13 saw them reach the group phase. They played in a section which included Newcastle United, Bordeaux and Club Brugge.
Rossi featured in qualifying rounds against Asteras Tripoli of Greece and the Georgian club Dila Gori. He then faced Brugge in the groups in what was the most exhilarating period of his career so far. This summer, he will revisit the Europa League when Hearts take their place in the first qualifying round.
“It’s big to play in that competition. There are four games left in the league and we will try to finish second, but I don’t know,” he said. “I knew we could get to the Europa League. In my head, I know the Europa League is very important for next season. All the players and the fans know this.
“I think I can help. The Europa League is a strong tournament and the players are very good quality. I think I can speak to every player and help them. The stadiums are different, the fans are different, the referees are different. Overall, it is a more difficult level of football.
“I remember the qualifiers with Maritimo against the Greek team and the team in Georgia. I played against Brugge in the group stage. It was the highest level in my career, the standard was very high.”
More prominent in his thoughts is tomorrow’s assignment against the reigning Premiership champions. Celtic will effectively secure a fifth successive title if they win at Tynecastle. Hearts’ record in matches with the Parkhead club this season is fair given they have drawn twice and lost once in the league. There was also a defeat in the League Cup quarter-final.
Rossi is nearing the end of his first year in Scotland and knows precisely what tomorrow will bring. He will be reinstated to the starting line-up after sitting out last week’s defeat at Motherwell through suspension.
“This game is very hard, Celtic have good players and I think they will be champions. It’s a home game for Hearts and there is pressure but I think it’s possible to win. The fans are special. This will be a good game. Celtic have one aim, to be champions. Hearts have a different aim, to catch Aberdeen and finish in second place. That place is important for us now.”