Big interview: Ben Garuccio steadying Hearts' left flank
Ben Garuccio already looks a steadying influence on the left side of Hearts defence. Which is just as well considering he is the latest in a long line of left-backs trying to cement themselves at Tynecastle Park.
The Australian’s pre-season performances hint at someone confident in his own ability, able to defend and attack, and who can adapt to the unpredictable demands of Scottish football.
Garuccio would be forgiven for feeling trepidation arriving in Edinburgh as the proposed solution to a long-term left-back problem. A three-year contract indicates manager Craig Levein’s confidence in the former Adelaide United player, and that has been backed up on the field thus far.
Garuccio scored his first Hearts goal fortuitously in Sunday’s friendly win over Partick Thistle at Cowdenbeath. His intended cross landed in the net from 25 yards out, but the attacking instinct is a natural part of the 23-year-old’s game.
Playing as a wing-back rather than an orthodox full-back is new to him, but he is taking that in his stride. Levein’s preference so far this summer has been for a back three to give both wing-backs licence to attack down the flanks. Garuccio looks like a natural and has shrugged off the pressure of trying to solve Hearts’ perennial problem area.
“I don’t feel under pressure. You just have to focus on gelling with the team,” he told the Evening News. “I don’t think you can put too much pressure on yourself from the outset. As long as I’m doing all the things the gaffer wants, then I’m sure the fans will also be happy.
“Wing-back is new to me. I’m used to playing in a back four back in Australia but we’ve been playing with three at the back. It’s just something you have to adapt to. We’ve been talking about that within the group. There are a lot of new players so it just takes a bit of time to get a feel for the way everybody plays.
“In my position, you need to get used to a new centre-back playing next to you, or a new midfielder inside you. You can get forward was well.
“The goal was a little bit fortunate on Sunday but it’s good to get into those areas. I also had a volley inside the box which could have gone in, and another one which I took on my chest and laid back when I probably should have gone on myself.
“If you look at that, three decent chances to score in a game is really positive.”
Garuccio comes across as an amiable and humble chap. So, when asked about his first goal in Scotland, he could not help but answer honestly.
“No, I didn’t mean it. I’ve been copping it from the boys in the dressing room,” he laughed. “It was definitely a cross but I’ve heard that’s the Cowdenbeath bobble for you.
“The boys are giving it to me but I told them every goal counts. When the season starts, I’ll already have a goal next to my name so I’m happy with that. You count every goal when you’re a defender.”
He has clearly settled quickly into the environment at Riccarton. It remains to be seen if Hearts return to Manchester United with another loan offer for Demetri Mitchell after his productive stint in Gorgie last season.
There is no such bid on the horizon right now with Garuccio filling the role so aptly.
“I feel it’s gone well so far,” he stated. “The pre-season has been very tough. The first week and a half was really hard and we didn’t touch much of the ball. It was a good transition because we knew what to expect. We worked very hard as a group and now we’re working with the ball and doing tactical stuff. It takes a bit of time to get the group working together.
“It’s really different in Australia because we have a three-and-a-half-month pre-season. Our season doesn’t start until October but we start training around the same time as teams here. It’s a bit more of a slow burner and you ease into it.
“Here, you only have limited time. We have a fair amount of new players this year so it’s not ideal given the time. You’ve got to just get into it, get the hard work done and then work on how we want to play.”
The defender is one of 11 signings to check in so far, with one or two more to come. “We are all still a little bit rusty. Once we get back to Tynecastle it will be really nice to see the way we can play football,” he continued.
“I can’t wait for the cup games to start and then the league after that. The boys have been talking about the atmosphere with the fans at Tynecastle so I’m buzzing to get there. The main thing is we get good results when the season starts.”
With Oliver Bozanic and Ryan Edwards for company, there are plenty new team-mates who understand the Australian culture. “Australia is so far away and you hear a lot of boys talk about being homesick over here. At the moment, I feel like I’m just interstate because the Aussie boys are here. We catch up after training and go for coffees and stuff. It’s making life away from football really easy.”
Surely they have organised a barbecue amid Scotland’s heatwave? “Not yet,” he laughs. “One of the places I’m looking at moving into has a big balcony and that was the first thing Olly said. He goes: ‘You’re cooking the first barby, then.’ I don’t mind. I’ll take barby duty.”
Better be quick before the wind and rain starts. For now, Ben Garuccio will let the sun shine on his new career with Hearts.