Exclusive: Mihai Popescu explains pressure to win every day and why Hearts is the perfect club for him

Robbie Neilson, Lee McCulloch and Gordon Forrest don’t speak fluent Romanian. It is hardly a prerequisite for coaching at Hearts.
Mihai Popescu says Hearts is "perfect" for him.Mihai Popescu says Hearts is "perfect" for him.
Mihai Popescu says Hearts is "perfect" for him.

It says much for their ubiquitous winning mentality that a new arrival from Bucharest has adopted it wholeheartedly. Mihai Popescu, in his own English words, feels Hearts is the “perfect” club for him.

Eight wins from eight could become nine from nine with victory for Neilson’s side at Dunfermline this evening. The Riccarton management team are demanding as much despite the opposition’s own sound record of seven wins and a draw.

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Popescu knows the stakes are high. It was one of the reasons he left Dinamo Bucharest for Edinburgh in September.

The former St Mirren loanee told the Evening News why he wants to stay with Hearts long-term, and explained how Neilson’s message has been drilled into the squad every day.

“I had a good time here with St Mirren but now I know more about Scotland so it’s better for me,” he said. “I love being here and being Hearts is perfect for me. I hope everything is good in the future so I can stay as long as I can here.


"I feel good, I am playing and I feel confidence from the guys. We are winning every game so that is perfect.

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"It would be great to score a lot of goals in every game, but sometimes teams play hard against us. They know Hearts is a big club so they have to be more focused and concentrated.

"We have to win every game. If it’s 1-0 or 6-0, it’s still a win.

"When I came here I heard all about the winning mentality. I don’t know how it was before because I played against Hearts two years ago. I don’t know if they spoke about a winning mentality.

"When I arrived here and I heard about this ‘winning, winning, winning,’ I started to think about what they were saying and how we played in training. We are starting to play how the coach wants.”

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Whether delivered in Romanian or English, the instructions are not difficult to comprehend. Neilson intends to develop a culture where victory in every match is a basic requirement.

"He tries to explain it in every training,” said Popescu. “He showed us how he wants training, how to play like we are against other teams. It starts in the dressing room, we have spoken with each other and it’s great for the gaffer to speak with us about this.”

‘How is this possible?’

The momentum in Gorgie has caught the attention of the player’s friends and family back home.

"I didn’t speak much with the media in Romania because my club did not agree with speaking to them. We only spoke before the games.

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"I speak with my friends at Dinamo and I hope everything is okay there, but I am focused on what I have to do here.

"My family and friends know Hearts is a big club but they are not expecting that we would win every game. They ask me: 'How is this possible?’

"That is why I came here. I know it’s a big club and we have to win every game to get to the Premiership again.

“It was good for us to have some days off in the last two weeks during the international break.

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"I stayed at home with my girlfriend. We relaxed, went walking and I did some training to prepare for this game – and another win.”

Dunfermline are currently joint top of the Scottish Championship table alongside their Fife rivals Raith Rovers. Both clubs have amassed ten points from four matches, with Hearts a point behind having played a game less.

"We know about Dunfermline,” said Popescu. “They have had a good start to the season but we have also had eight wins so far. We want to play how we play and come back with the three points.”

He faces extra competition in the coming weeks as he strives to retain his starting place in the centre of Hearts’ defence.

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With Christophe Berra fit again after injury, Neilson must choose his two centre-backs for each match from Berra, Popescu and Craig Halkett. It is hoped John Souttar could return from a ruptured Achilles later in the campaign.


"I am happy Christophe is back. I know he was injured a long time and I am pleased for him,” said Popescu. “The gaffer will decide who he wants to play.

"It’s better for me and the other defenders to have other team-mates to push us. We will see in the future what the gaffer decides.”

The future is now for Hearts in one sense. They can move top of the league tonight before hosting Alloa at Tynecastle on Tuesday.

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Then it’s a trip to Clackmannanshire to face the same opponents in the Betfred Cup last 16. Another two league games follow before the small matter of a Scottish Cup final against Celtic five days before Christmas.

"I was happy when we won the semi-final against our rivals, Hibs,” said Popescu. “Now we are in a final against Celtic. We know they are a big club with good players but a final is still a final. The chance is 50/50.

"We will not go there to defend. We will go like every game – to attack and try to win the trophy. For now, we must focus on the league games and keep winning.”

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