Andy Halliday's attempt at Italian as Robbie Neilson discusses Catenaccio ahead of Hearts v Fiorentina
“Buongiorno. Let’s get the Italian goin’.” Andy Halliday’s entrance at Hearts’ pre-match press conference for Fiorentina’s visit is typically upbeat. His team’s on-field performance must be likewise on Thursday evening.
“Ah don’t need an interpreter. You can sit next door, mate,” jokes the midfielder while taking a seat in front of Scottish and Italian media. He is a seriously keen student of football and knows what to expect in matchday three of the Europa Conference League.
Fiorentina might be 11th in Serie A with just one win in ten matches, but their aggressive playing style and high-tempo approach are capable of causing any team problems. Forwards Christian Kouame and Arthur Cabral are two of several dangermen.
Halliday’s Serie A knowledge is strong since watching La Viola legend Gabriel Batistuta as a child. “We are hoping to get a positive result to put us in a good position in the group, but we are facing a fantastic football club with great tradition and great football players,” he acknowledges.
“I think they’ve been a bit of a mixed bag domestically this season but we’ve certainly done our due diligence watching them and we can see they are a top quality side. Of course, we want to exploit teams’ weaknesses as well.
“My first memories are growing up watching Italian football on Channel 5 and watching players like Batistuta at Fiorentina and greats like that. When you watch Fiorentina, they are clearly a very brave team in and out of possession with a lot of top-quality players who are very technical.
“With that comes areas we can exploit but we know we are facing a very good side. For us to get a result we need to be on top of our game. It’s important we do what we are good at.”
Halliday visited Florence on holiday earlier this year and was an avid AC Milan fan as a child around the Millennium. “I don’t want to disappoint any Fiorentina fans but it was always AC Milan for me,” he smiles.
“The kit, some of the legends they had, that millennial team and the 2010s after that, they had some fantastic sides. Serie A has always been an amazing league. Even now you look at Fiorentina and they are one of the massive clubs, so it will be great to play against them.
“I actually went to Florence on holiday in the summer there so I know it’s a beautiful city. It’s going to be a great occasion for a lot of our players to go and play in a stadium that is so historic.
“I’ve been to a few places in Italy on holiday, Florence was always one I wanted to visit as I had heard it was very beautiful. I did a little tour, I went to Rome, Florence and Bologna for a couple of nights. Great food, I think that’s the main thing!”
He is then informed that the historic city of Florence – known for its fashion, culture, art and tourism – is twinned with Edinburgh. They were linked in 1964 and, like Edinburgh's old and new town, the Florence city centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
“I didn’t know that. I better not say who I think is the better looking of the twins because the Edinburgh locals might not be too happy,” laughs Halliday. “Over the last two days we have looked at what Fiorentina are good at and what they are not so good at.
“They are a very brave team in possession, they try and play out from the back, they use their defensive midfielder to advance up the pitch. Out of possession, they press really high. Quite a lot of the goals they have conceded have been balls over the top and in behind.
“Coming here, we want to make Tynecastle a fortress and make it difficult for them. I see two good teams going at it and trying to get a result.
“I think they play a little similar to Celtic in that they press high, play to a high intensity and I think it works very well for them at times. But when you don’t get it right it does leave weaknesses.
“Listen, we know we are facing a very good side. We need to focus on what we do as well. If they leave areas for us to try and expose we’ll do that, but we know we’ll need to play well to get anything from the game.”
With three points to Fiorentina’s one after two matches in Group A, Hearts enter this tie in a stronger position than their opponents. The Italians simply cannot afford to lose in Gorgie if they have serious intentions of progressing to the Conference League’s knockout phase.
The two teams meet in Italy next week and the group table will look an awful lot clearer thereafter. Robbie Neilson, the Hearts manager, is fully aware that his counterpart Vincenzo Italiano is a modern-thinking Italian coach.
"I've been watching Fiorentina’s games and they are very impressive in the press. Italian football has changed quite a bit of the last number of years. It has gone from Catenaccio sitting in and defending to real all-out pressing and aggression.
“It's really exciting to watch. We need to find a way to combat that. Hopefully we have found it. We've been working on it and hopefully we can take something from the game.”