Deep sentimental reasons underpin the preference of new Hearts recruit Joaquim Adao to wear the No.66 jersey.
Until 19 months ago, the Angolan internationalist, as a holding midfield player, was happy merely to wear the No.6 on his back. The number became all the more pertinent for Adao, however, when he received the news on the sixth day of the six month of 2016 that his beloved father had passed away. The 25-year-old was on international duty at the time and it is clear that, almost two years on, the pain lingers. In addition to the symbolic number on the back of his shirt, Adao has a tattoo on his hand commemorating his father. The memory of Joao Dielu serves as inspiration to Hearts’ newest signing as he bids to make the most of his career.
“It is a personal story,” said Adao when asked about the relevance of his shirt number. “In my life, I normally wear the No.6 jersey. But two years ago I was away with the national team and on the sixth of June, 2016, I got a phonecall from my mother to tell me my dad was dead. So I said I would play with 66 for my dad. I also have the date tattooed on my hand. My dad left Angola and went to Portugal and Switzerland to make a better life for me and my brothers. I have two big brothers and three younger brothers. It is a big family and he worked hard for us. He did not get the chance to see me play very much, but everything I do, I do it for my dad.”
Adao this week moved to Tynecastle on loan until the summer as he bids to get back on track after a frustrating first half of the season. Apart from a loan stint with Chiasso, the imposing African has spent his entire career with Sion, but has found his game restricted in recent months amid a significant overhaul at the Swiss club.
“Last season, I played 30 games, I was playing well and everything was good,” he explained. “But this season we have changed the coach and a lot of players who had been there a long time. A lot has changed. I went to speak to the Sion president about going on loan and then I flew to Edinburgh. I came here in the afternoon (on Wednesday) to see the club, the coach and the owner. It was an easy decision to make.”
Adao’s decision was aided by a chat with former Hearts defender Jose Goncalves, with whom he played at Sion. Manager Craig Levein has a positive vibe about his newest recruit, and Adao is intent on making a swift and notable impact in Edinburgh.
“I asked what Jose thought about Hearts and Scottish football and he said it would be a very good choice for me because of my characteristics,” he said. “I play with my heart. My mentality is to be a winner. I am here to win lots of games – I want success. When you have success, you have more opportunities and the fans like you. When you don’t win games it is not nice – I want to win. I believe we can do well in the league and the Scottish Cup. I want to play four months for Hearts and impress. I am fit and I am ready to go.”
Adao, who is in line to make his debut against St Johnstone at Tynecastle today, has been reunited with a familiar face at Hearts in Kyle Lafferty.
“I know Kyle personally and he was a good friend when we played together at Sion for a season,” he said. “He is a good person for me and can help me settle in Scotland and at the club. I didn’t speak with him before I signed but I sent him a message saying ‘I’m coming to join you’.”
Adao encountered another well-known former Rangers player at his parent club when Rino Gattuso became firstly a team-mate and then his manager. The legendary Italian – now manager of AC Milan – made a lasting impression on his fellow midfield enforcer. “I played with Gattuso, then after six months he was made the manager. We had a good season with him as manager. I play a similar position and he taught me so much. Playing with him was like a lesson. I know that he played football in Scotland before going back over to Italy and having so much success. He plays aggressive, strong, he is a fighter.
“He was a very crazy man. But he’s not crazy for nothing. He is very professional. He is crazy about football. If you don’t press well or give your all, he will come at you. He is a winner and I like that. When you play beside or work under a guy like that, you can only get better. I was a younger player but I learned a lot from Gattuso.”