Christos Karipidis duelled with Juanma in last season’s Greek Super League.
He recalls a forward with pace, strength, aerial ability and a desire to succeed. Those attributes should serve the Spaniard well in Scotland after he signed a three-year contract with Hearts. Karipidis, the former Tynecastle defender, predicts he will be a major asset.
Now 32, the Greek centre-back has advised Hearts fans to be patient and allow Juanma time to adapt to Scottish football. If they do, they will be rewarded by a player who has all the necessary tools to cause havoc in the Premiership. Karipidis marked him when his club, Skoda Xanthi, met Juanma’s Kalloni side last season. Playing against him was one thing, but watching him in action was quite another.
“We won the first game against Kalloni 2-1 at home and the second game was a 2-2 draw. I only played in the first game. I was injured for the second game but Juanma scored Kalloni’s two goals that day. He scored when I did not play, so he was lucky,” laughed Karipidis. “I remember watching that second game and he played really well. He scored twice, he had chances, he hit the post and he was by far the most dangerous player for Kalloni.
“You cannot say just one thing about him. There is a lot to his game. When I played against him the first time, we played very well and Juanma was not playing up front so much. We had the ball most of the time so the Kalloni players had to defend for a lot of the game. I didn’t get a clear picture of him that day.
“He is a very tall guy and a good player. He had a good season in Greece last year. I think he has the style to play in Scotland. He has good speed even though he is a big guy. Some strikers are tall but they don’t have speed. For his height, he is quick. He is very strong with his head and he is not bad with the ball as well. He is strong and good in the air, that’s why I believe he can be a success playing in Scotland.
“The Hearts fans will like him and I know they will support him. They have to give him a little bit of time to get used to the training, because it’s different. The rhythm of the game is completely different in Scotland and I think Juanma will need a little bit of time to adapt. It’s a new team and a new style for him but I believe he will be successful.”
Hearts must wait for international clearance to arrive before Juanma, whose full name is Juan Manuel Delgado Lloria, officially becomes their property. Kalloni desperately tried to prevent the 24-year-old leaving the Greek island of Lesbos. He had become a popular figure after just one season there in which he scored seven times in 26 appearances. Kalloni announced via their website on May 30 that Juanma had signed a one-year contract extension, but the player and his agent managed to negotiate a release.
That freed to him for a move Karipidis felt he had to make. Kalloni’s status as a provincial club in Greece may mean Edinburgh, and a packed Tynecastle in particular, is a slight culture shock for Juanma. Given time, Karipidis is confident he will thrive in the passionate atmosphere generated by the Gorgie venue. The Greek defender, right, spent three years with Hearts from 2006 to 2009 and has fond memories of the Tynecastle roar.
“When I was in Scotland, the football was very good and I enjoyed it a lot. Many teams tried to play good football and they had good tactics. I think Juanma will enjoy this,” he said. “He will especially enjoy playing at Tynecastle. This stadium, with all the fans inside, will be something new for him. He did not have this before.
“Kalloni played in the Super League for the second time in Greece last year. They don’t have many fans. He is going to a big club in Scotland to play in this fantastic stadium in front of great supporters. This is the best move for him.”
The news of Juanma’s move won’t have been well received in the ancient Greek city of Mytilene, where Kalloni are based. They finished 11th in the Super League – Xanthi were eighth – and felt a prize asset like Juanma was vital to hopes of improving on that place. However, the ongoing economic uncertainty in Greece makes it difficult for all but the top clubs to keep hold of star players.
“Of course Kalloni will be disappointed to lose Juanma because he is one of their best players,” explained Karipidis. “He was a very important part of their team and they have lost him. It’s always disappointing when you lose such a good player.
“In Greece, we have many problems which everybody knows. The economy problems affect the football and there is not a lot of money. Juanma is young, just 24, so this is a good chance for him. If he plays well for Hearts, he can move and go higher from there. It is easier to do that in Scotland.”
Juanma strolled through the international arrivals door at Edinburgh airport yesterday morning into a land of opportunity. For him, Scotland offers both an escape from Greece and a chance to realise his full potential. Karipidis will be watching closely.
“I’m interested to see what he can do so I will be looking at the Hearts games. I think he will be a very good player for them.”