VALDAS IVANAUSKAS was head coach of Hearts when Andy Webster cancelled his contract to force his way out of Tynecastle. The Lithuanian knew then it was the wrong decision and has waited over five years to be proven correct.
Webster returned to Hearts in January this year and, excepting some minor injury absences, reverted to being a first-team regular. His performances in recent weeks have been exemplary and Craig Levein told the Evening News last week that the defender is poised for a Scotland recall. That was like music to Ivanauskas’ ears.
Along with Vladimir Romanov, Ivanauskas argued with Webster that leaving Hearts was a rash and dangerous choice back in the spring of 2006. But the player stubbornly invoked Article 17 of FIFA’s transfer regulations and subsequently joined Wigan Athletic and then Rangers.
Injuries and loss of form hindered his development and it took a loan move to Dundee United in 2009 to re-ignite his career. However, upon returning to Rangers having won the Scottish Cup at Tannadice, he lurched back into obscurity.
Hearts re-signed Webster at the age of 28 on the final day of this year’s January transfer window. Ivanauskas knew all along he should never have left in the first place.
“I think it was too early for Andy to change club because he was a big player in that Hearts team,” he said today. “It was his decision and he moved, but you can’t stop injuries.
“Of course I expect him back in the Scotland team, 100 per cent. The injuries have been very unfortunate for him but he is a good player and a very important player. I watch all the Scottish national team games. They have a good defence but I think Andy is ready for the Scottish team. In the future he should be there.”
Whether Webster is enlisted for national service for next month’s friendly with Cyprus will depend wholly on him maintaining fitness. “Webster is a very big player for Hearts,” continued Ivanauskas. “I remember his situation five years ago so now this is a good position for Andy to be in.
“He was injured for two or three years and he changed clubs. This was not good for him. But Andy is a good player for Scottish football. He and Marius Zaliukas can be the best defence in the Scottish League if they stay together.
“Andy had chances to play in big teams the English Premier League or in other countries. Injuries are just a normal part of football but I hope he stays fit for the future.”
Zaliukas has been somewhat less convincing this season compared to Webster. His aberrations have cost goals at vital times in important games, most notably the Scottish Communities League Cup tie at Ayr United.
Ivanauskas, though, believes he has the required character to overcome criticism. “He is a big player, a very important player for Hearts, and he is captain. I did not see the Rangers game on Sunday but these are all big games against the big teams. Every player has a time in the season when it is not so easy. It is difficult to play all season at a high level. Maybe that is now the situation with Marius.
“I saw him play against Scotland for Lithuania and he is a good player, but he must constantly play at his highest level. He is experienced and he must learn from this situation. He has the character to deal with this.
“I remember he came to Kaunas as a very young player. I saw him as a good player but not serious. He played well for maybe two or three games, then not so well. But that happens with young players. He is more experienced now, he is older and now I think he can change this situation.
“It was seven years ago when he came to Kaunas. Every player has a chance to go to a big team and I saw Marius had potential. But captain of a big club like Hearts, no. I can’t believe that but now this is the situation. He has everything perfect because he is captain of Hearts and the team is playing well. Five years in one club is a good time for him.”