Juanma Delgado claims to be a reformed character after learning the harsh realities of Scottish football. The Hearts forward spent time reflecting on his poor disciplinary record last month following a red card for headbutting St Johnstone’s David Wotherspoon. He is now eager to avoid all controversy.
Frank discussions with head coach Robbie Neilson and director of football Craig Levein laid bare a damning case against the 25-year-old Spaniard. Nine yellow cards and a red in his first 21 Hearts games had earned him an unwanted reputation. He served his second suspension of the season for the incident at McDiarmid Park but has returned pledging a different attitude.
Staying clear of referees is Juanma’s priority after months of questioning nearly every official about every decision. The talks with Neilson and Levein were harsh but reinforced a message the player needed to hear. In his first exclusive interview since joining Hearts last summer, he laid bare his new approach.
“I feel very calm now. This situation taught me a lot for the future,” said Juanma. “I won’t talk with referees from now on. I learned quite a lot from the situation. I will be the same player but I am learning some lessons. I learned the hard way.
“I had conversations with Robbie and Craig and they explained to me how Scottish football works. We all agreed to put a line in the sand and move on. I didn’t know about Scottish football and about referees when I came here. Again, I learned from that situation because of what Robbie and Craig told me.
“Since that moment, I haven’t spoken a word to any referee. I am only concentrating on playing football and giving my best for the club.”
Hard work is the player’s new mantra as he fights to reclaim a starting place. Gavin Reilly profited from Juanma’s most recent ban to grab the Spaniard’s spot up front beside Osman Sow. Juanma must exercise patience and is likely to start on the bench again at Inverness tomorrow.
“This is something that happens in football. Now, I am only working harder to get back into the starting line-up. It’s the coach’s decision and I respect the coach’s decision a lot. If someone else is in the team before me, then I will just work harder to get into the team again. When I meet Hearts fans, they tell me I am a good player and they want me to score as much as I can.”
Ten goals in 25 appearances to date is a decent return from someone still adapting to Scottish football. Juanma left the Greek club Kalloni to pursue a career in the UK last June, believing his style is best suited to Britain.
“Scottish football is more physical. The players use more strength and power,” he continued. “I feel comfortable with this kind of football because it’s part of my condition. The best thing for me is the supporters. I like how people live for football in this country.
“After the Greek experience I had some different offers. I decided to come to Scotland because I see Scottish football as similar to English football. I felt a physical style of football was close to my style. I came here to become a better player.”
He left Kalloni in controversial circumstances after they posted a website statement informing fans he was staying and had signed a new contract. “I haven’t commented at all about that situation. It’s in the past. Something happened with my previous agent but I haven’t spoken about it,” said Juanma.
He arrived to a fair degree of attention at Edinburgh Airport, knowing he was in town to fill the role of the traditional No.9 striker at Tynecastle. That brought extra pressure, but the player has delivered in terms of goals and assists so far. A three-year contract allows time for further growth. His next target is to help Hearts reach the Europa League qualifying rounds.
“I am happy with my performances. I am creating and scoring goals. Now I want to work harder to get more goals. As a club, we are all working to get one of the top three positions in the league and be in Europe.
“The pressure hasn’t affected me because I felt very comfortable when I arrived here. I met Miguel Pallardo and Pablo, the under-20 physio, when I came to the club. I thought the Spanish people around the club would help me settle. I am taking English lessons but every day I understand more. It will take a little while until I get better. In Greece, English was spoken but when I came here I found a different accent.”
Learning the “ayes” and “naws” of Scottish dialect can be another challenge for foreigners. Juanma is determined to immerse himself in British culture and hopes to forge a successful career here. His style has been likened to Chelsea’s Diego Costa but it is another Spanish striker he wants to emulate.
“Fernando Torres was my hero when I was a child. I thought he always played well and he had a good career in the UK. We are different players but I always watched Torres and liked his style of play.
“I don’t consider that I have similar points to Diego Costa. The only thing I think is similar is that we are both aggressive in our positions. I try to get in position ahead of the defender who is marking me.”
Juanma is aggressive for sure, but no longer overly so.