THE argument that Igor Rossi has so far proven the most consistent of Hearts’ summer signings is difficult to ignore.
For a centre-back from Brazil’s tropical Campinas region, his playing style is distinctly un-Brazilian. This may well be the secret to his prospering in Scotland.
Rossi models himself on Brazil’s decorated World Cup winner Lucio, a domineering defender who captained his country and played for European giants such as Inter Milan and Bayern Munich. Hearts don’t quite carry the same grandiose status but Rossi’s happiness at Tynecastle is rooted in regular game time in a league where he is a natural fit.
He arrived last July on a 12-month contract, primarily to provide defensive cover for captain Alim Ozturk and fellow new signings Blazej Augustyn and Juwon Oshaniwa. Now he is a regular, some may say undroppable, member of the back four. He has started 24 of Hearts’ 25 competitive matches to date this season – more than other summer recruits Augustyn, Oshaniwa, Juanma, Gavin Reilly, Danny Swanson and Arnaud Djoum. He will again be a key figure tomorrow when he makes his Scottish Cup debut against Aberdeen.
The secret to his success is a desire for pure, old-fashioned defending. Like Lucio, Rossi doesn’t do messing about. Aggression is the single biggest ingredient in his game and he uses it to his advantage. While other Brazilian defenders are busy perfecting dainty stepovers back home, the 26-year-old isn’t afraid to horse a clearance over Tynecastle’s main stand when necessary.
He thrives on the physical competition in Scotland because he struggled to find it at previous clubs in Portugal and Brazil. In his first media interview since joining Hearts, he explained how watching Lucio honed him into a defender more suited to a Fir Park mudbath than the Copacabana beach.
“I like Lucio and I looked at him playing for Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. He is a very aggressive player,” Rossi told the Evening News. “I try to be similar to him because he is very strong, he can play long passes and he is technically a very good footballer. Aggression is a big part of my game and I like to play aggressively.”
So, when the opportunity to join Hearts arose last July, he decided instantly. “I looked at football in England and it’s very aggressive. In Scotland, it is similar football. I watched the games and I said: ‘Yes, it’s very nice there, it’s aggressive, I’m going.’
“Hearts spoke to me so I looked at Edinburgh and I looked at information on Hearts. I saw last year they won the Championship and were doing very well. Robbie Neilson spoke to me and I thought it was a good chance for me. I decided quickly to go to Scotland.”
Rossi was out of contract at the Portuguese club Maritimo and seeking a new challenge. One of his biggest aspirations was to play regularly after flitting in and out of Maritimo’s B team. He had done likewise at his previous club, Internacional in Brazil, and set off for Edinburgh determined to become a first-team regular. That his contract has already been extended for another year confirms his prowess.
“At Internacional and Maritimo I played in the first team sometimes and the B team sometimes,” he continued. “I was in the B team at Maritimo for my first year and then for the next four years I was in the first-team squad. I didn’t play in the first team every week but when you don’t play in the first team, then you play in the B team. The whole experience in Edinburgh has been really good. The Hearts supporters have been very good with me. Every game, home or away, we have a fantastic crowd. Maritimo have no fans like the ones at Hearts. The fans tell me they like me because I am an aggressive player and every game I want to win. In Brazil, it is not fast football like here. It is easy, passing and not compact. Teams here are very aggressive and I like aggressive football. The passes are very fast and that’s why I like football in Scotland. In Brazil, there is no aggression.”
Rossi speaks in slightly broken English with a thick Portuguese accent. He is more than happy to convey his happiness at finding “his” kind of football as best he can. His craggy features indicate a ruggedness which has helped him survive the Scottish Premiership. Beneath the tough surface, he comes from a varied and cultured background having lived in three different continents.
“When I was younger I played in my city in Brazil, Campinas. My father, my mother and my sister are all in Campinas,” explained the defender, whose brother Raphael plays for Swindon Town. “When I was a child, everything was about football. My father was a goalkeeper for Guarani, Ponte Preta and Campinas, then he was a goalkeeping coach in Japan. I lived in Japan for three years because, when he got the job there, all the family went to Japan to live.”
He has no plans to do any more travelling for the moment after extending his Hearts contract until summer 2017.
“I am happy to be here for one more year. Me and my wife are happy here. At the moment, my head is only on Hearts and on the Scottish league. Afterwards, I don’t know what will happen. I enjoy playing for Hearts and that is all I think about right now.”