From the moment he steps off the plane at Edinburgh Airport, Ben Garuccio will be under pressure. Hearts haven’t had a permanent left-back worthy of the name since Adam Eckersley and the Australian must dissolve three years of frustration in the club’s problem position.
He leaves Adelaide United for a different league, country and continent, where the intensity of the Scottish Premiership has jolted many a predecessor. Former Tynecastle defender Dylan McGowan was a team-mate of Garuccio’s in South Australia and believes he can handle the scrutiny. He may even thrive on it.
Hearts supporters want a competent left-back after watching Lennard Sowah, Juwon Oshaniwa and several others stumble around in that area in recent seasons. Garuccio is stepping up from the Hyundai A League after agreeing a three-year deal in Edinburgh. He should already know what he is walking into.
“I spoke to him about it before he signed,” explained McGowan, who played a full year beside Garuccio in the Adelaide defence in season 2016/17.
“He asked me certain things about the club and the city. I said the one thing that will change for him is the demand on him as a player and around his performances from the fans and public in general. When you’re out and about they make sure you know if you’re playing well or you’re playing poorly.
“I told him Adelaide is a fantastic place with great fans but it’s a lot more laid back when you’re out in the street. I said: ‘You’re in for a bit of a shock when you’re doing well and everyone is stopping and speaking to you with bits of advice.’ As long as you’re prepared to be in the public eye at Hearts, you’ll do fine. They are a massive club.”
Tynecastle regulars will be encouraged reading McGowan describe 5ft 9in Garuccio as the sort of gritty character who could be well suited to Scottish football. The need for a steadying influence at left-back is clear after so many wasted signings.
“He definitely has the temperament and the aggression,” said McGowan, currently playing for South Korean club Gangwon on loan from Pacos de Ferreira of Portugal.
“Ben was our left-back for a year during my final season at Adeliade. He is obviously on the shorter side of things but he is very quick, aggressive and good going forward. He generally puts good deliveries into the box and he is a willing learner.
“When he came to Adelaide, he was a younger player coming from another A League club [Melbourne Heart] because he wanted to play more. He came to us and really cemented the left-back spot. He always asked for help and wanted to learn so I’m not surprised he’s managed to push on and get himself a really good move to a really good club.
“Like I said, he isn’t the biggest but he won’t back down which is something that will be needed in Scotland. I think he’s got the attributes to be successful there. He’s a good friend of mine so I’ll be willing him on and hoping he does well.”
Crowds inside Adelaide’s wide open 16,500-capacity Coopers Stadium generally hover around the 8,000-9,000 mark, although they can reach double figures on occasion. Tynecastle will be an altogether different environment.
“Ben seemed to be really excited about playing in front of a full stadium every second weekend,” revealed McGowan. “I said to him the Hearts fans are incredible. During my time there, we were doing poorly but they still turned out in massive numbers. Now with the new stand it’s full every week. I told him to jump at it because the opportunity to play for a club like that doesn’t come around every year.”
Garuccio conducted some thorough research with calls to both McGowan and another former Hearts Australian defender, Patrick Kisnorbo. He then met the Tynecastle club’s manager Craig Levein before signing a pre-contract agreement last week. By then, he had been made fully aware of the fervid atmosphere he will encounter in Scotland.
“I think that side of it was probably something he didn’t know until he spoke to myself and Kisnorbo,” said McGowan. “He saw the size of the Hearts stadium but 17,000 or 18,000 inside Tynecastle feels like 50,000. It’s a completely different atmosphere to what he’s used to and Ben is certainly a guy who won’t shirk that challenge.
“I told him Edinburgh is a fantastic city and I can only speak highly about the club. Once he did his research and then met the gaffer, I think he was sold on the decision.”
He is taking on a huge responsibility but, at 22, Garuccio is ripe for the challenge of furthering his career abroad. He played at the Australian Institute of Sport before beginning his professional career at Melbourne Heart, a club since renamed Melbourne City.
He joined Adelaide two years ago and became a regular in their starting line-up. United finished fifth in this season’s A League before losing to Melbourne Victory in the Elimination Play-off. With that, Garuccio headed overseas to secure a move which might help him add a full Australian cap to his Under-20 and Under-23 appearances.
“A lot of players have gone on to represent Australia playing in Scotland. There’s myself, my brother [Ryan], Tom Rogic, Jackson Irvine. We’ve all played for the national team and played in Scotland. I think Ben probably sees this as a good pathway. He can further his career with Hearts and with Australia.”