Ben Garuccio’s 2019 tales make quite a story. He is possibly the most competent and consistent left-back at Hearts, but the Australian is very much learning about Scottish football the hard way.
He hasn’t started a league match since December’s Edinburgh derby, omitted by manager Craig Levein for losing concentration and, at times, his temper. Reserve games were his lot for weeks on end.
A reprieve saw him play as substitute at Motherwell last month, only to be sent off and receive a two-match ban for a dangerous two-footed lunge at Liam Grimshaw. Garuccio wasn’t making life easy for himself.
He is at least able to smile about it ahead of tomorrow’s league trip to Dundee. Signed from Adelaide United last summer on a three-year contract, he now knows what is required, what Levein wants and what is necessary to survive in Scotland.
He completed his suspension and returned to Hearts’ starting line-up for Monday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final at Partick Thistle. Tomorrow should bring a first league start in ten weeks.
“He [Levein] said there were some times when I can lose my concentration in a game, maybe by losing my temper,” Garuccio explained to the Evening News. “Those things are maybe worrying for a coach when they see that you’ve lost concentration.
“When you play the good teams, maybe that split second can be the difference in them getting away from you on a counter-attack. I’ve taken it on board, gone away and tried to work on it. That’s a different part of my game but hopefully it shows in my performance.”
He was one of Hearts’ best performers on a disappointing night at Firhill and insisted there will be no red card repeat. “There were a couple of similar situations the other night where I could have dived in but I chose not to. I was not doing that again any time soon,” he smirked.
“I’m not a player who goes out there trying to hurt another player. At Motherwell, I saw the ball and I tried to win it. I did win it but I can understand the rules of the game these days if you’re off the ground. I don’t agree with it, to be honest, but I suppose if you lunge in like that then you take the risk. You learn from it.”
Is Garuccio Hearts’ best left-back? Well, he now has an unopposed opportunity to prove so. Demetri Mitchell’s season-ending knee injury gives the Australian two months to cement his position for next year.
“It’s been a little bit of time since I played. It’s just one of those things you can’t really control. You just control what you do in training and in the games you play in the reserves. I was happy to get back on the pitch against Motherwell and then I was disappointed to get the red card.
“There were a few little things that I can work on. We have a really good squad if you look at all the signings we’ve made. They are all players who can come in and start, so there will always be people left out. Naturally, you are disappointed.
“I’m always disappointed when I’m not playing but hopefully I did enough on Monday night. If I can keep contributing with crosses and assists, then I’ll be happy because I think that’s a big part of my game.”
His most notable contribution against Thistle came from a rehearsed corner-kick routine. When fellow Australian Oliver Bozanic clipped the ball out to Garuccio 25 yards from goal, he delivered a first-time cross which led to Christophe Berra heading Hearts in front on 12 minutes.
“If you look at the way we play with big Uche [Ikpeazu] up top, it’s very important to get crosses in. The gaffer has made it clear that’s what he wants from us,” said Garuccio. “I had that firmly in my head before the game – to try and get a few crosses in. I was lucky enough that the skip popped up with a good header from one of them and we scored.
“It was a nice move that we’ve practised on the training pitch so it was good to get an end product out of it. It was one of Austin MacPhee’s set-pieces. There are a few of them. We’ve been a bit adventurous with it this year but I think we’ve scored quite a lot of goals from set-pieces. If you catch teams off guard with it then a set-piece like that can sometimes win you a game.
“I was hoping the ball would have come along the ground because it’s a pretty tough ball to try and control. I’m not sure if I could maybe have taken a touch but it worked out well.”
It is easy to forget Garuccio is still only 23 and is adapting to a new life in a different hemisphere. With Mitchell back at parent club Manchester United recuperating, the left-back slot becomes the Australian’s to lose. His return to prominence could not have come at a better juncture with Hearts competing for a top-four Premiership finish and aiming for the Scottish Cup final. After Dundee tomorrow comes a midweek cup replay against Thistle in Edinburgh.
“The important thing is we’re still in the cup,” said Garuccio. “We’ve seen the draw and we have a great chance at Tynecastle. There is no better place to do it. These are all really good incentives for us. I was happy with the game on Monday, I’m just disappointed we conceded.
“We are fighting on two fronts. It’s exciting. What an amazing opportunity we have, but for now the focus is on Dundee and the league. We are in a good position in the league although we can still be better. We’ve got five games until the split so we want to get some good performances and go into the split really confident.”