Igor Rossi in a race to win new Hearts contract

Igor Rossi shows off the Hearts poppy short. There is a minute's silence at today's game for those who made the ultimate sacrifice
Igor Rossi shows off the Hearts poppy short. There is a minute's silence at today's game for those who made the ultimate sacrifice
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He was the club’s player of the year in his first season and became a fans’ favourite by helping the newly-promoted Edinburgh club qualify for Europe.

The accelerated progress was considerably more than the Brazilian expected. Nonetheless, he doesn’t offer a single complaint. Rossi and his wife are settled in the Capital and hope to stay for a while yet. That prospect will depend on whether Hearts renew the player’s contract before it expires next May.

There is every chance they will, for there would surely be an outcry among supporters if Rossi was allowed to depart on freedom of contract. His uncompromising style of defending has earned him a swathe of admirers as well as first-choice status in the Hearts defence. He couldn’t have asked for more so far.

“I am a little bit surprised, yes,” admitted the 27-year-old. “Before I came to Scotland, I only really knew about Celtic and Rangers. When the chance came to go to Hearts I saw they had just won the Championship and gone up to the Premiership.

“Now it is good. I think I adapted quickly and that was important for me. That gave me confidence to play my game. The football is more aggressive here, there’s more contact.

“It is difficult but I like it, I like the contact. Some clubs just play long balls up to their strikers. I have had to adapt quickly to this but I think the game here is good for me.”

Perhaps he benefited from prior advice on how to handle British football from his brother, the Swindon Town defender Raphael Rossi. The younger sibling has been in England since 2011 and previously played for Brighton and Whitehawk. His experience proved vital when Igor decided to accept Hearts’ offer and leave Maritimo in Portugal.

“It’s important for me because before I came here my brother told me about Scotland,” explained Rossi. “He has been in England for five years now and he is a big help to me sometimes. He helps me with my English, too. I didn’t speak any English at all before I came here.

“I am getting better at understanding my team-mates now, although Scottish is more difficult to understand than English. I am going to classes every week and that is important for me.

“My wife is here, too, and she has helped me settle as well. There is a big difference between Brazil and Scotland, the flight times are long. Last season my mother was able to come over, but it is not easy because my mother and father have jobs there.”

Even Mr and Mrs Rossi would be concerned if they visited this season. Hearts’ recent inconsistent results have irked some supporters, although the club remain third in the Ladbrokes Premiership ahead of today’s meeting with St Johnstone at Tynecastle.

Last week’s 3-3 draw in Inverness provided plenty excitement, although Rossi was less than happy playing in a defence which conceded three fairly cheap goals.

“Of course we were not happy but sometimes that happens, you lose three goals,” he said. “What is more important is the next game, we need to have more concentration because we need to win.

“It’s not about not losing goals. The strikers and midfielders need to score goals, too. Before Inverness, we had not scored a lot of goals but we weren’t losing goals either. Then everything changed. We scored goals and we lost them too.

“The problem is not with the strikers, the midfielders or defenders, it’s down to the whole team. We need to be more focused, not just on scoring goals or defending, but everything.”

Looking further ahead, the next two months look like being crucial in the Brazilian’s career. He wants to sign a new contract and stay at Hearts but has no idea if he will be offered one.

Director of football Craig Levein and head coach Robbie Neilson have held talks with other out-of-contract players, such as Sam Nicholson.

Rossi’s popularity and suitability to Scottish football certainly work in his favour but he is taking nothing for granted.

“Right now I don’t know. I have seven months left on my contract here but I think the most important thing is the games,” he stressed, keen not to have his focus diverted. “After that I will talk to Hearts with my agent about next season. Right now I don’t know my future.

“I like it here, I am happy here, not just with the football. Hearts is a fantastic club and I like Edinburgh very much. It is a beautiful city, although it is very cold. That is very different for a person from Brazil,” he laughed.

“The people are very nice to me and my wife is very happy here, too. We like living in Scotland. I would like to stay but I don’t know at the moment. It will depend on all sorts of things.”