New Hibs striker Deivydas Matulevicius is on a mission to silence the vast army of Jambos in Lithuania who have been quick to inform him that he has joined the wrong Edinburgh club.
Through the mid-to-late-Noughties, Scottish football welcomed dozens of footballers from the Baltic nation, with the vast majority arriving at Hearts, who were under the rule of Vladimir Romanov, the eccentric Russian banker who had strong links with Lithuania.
Current national team coach Edgaras Jankauskas, Saulius Mikoliunas, Deividas Cesnauskis and Marius Zaliukas were the most notable members of the Tynecastle club’s influx from Lithuania, but they haven’t had any players on their books from the Eastern European country since 2012 Scottish Cup-winning captain Zaliukas and Arvydas Novikovas left amid the club’s infamous descent towards administration four years ago.
Instead, it is Hibs where the only Lithuanians in Edinburgh can now be found after the recruitment over the past ten days of Matulevicius and his compatriot Vykintas Slivka.
Matulevicius is well connected with the ex-Hearts contingent, primarily through his involvement with the national team, and the 28-year-old forward has had to deal with mischief-making from several of them since making his move to Easter Road.
He intends to gain revenge on his maroon-tinted compatriots by ensuring Hibs maintain their recent dominance of the Edinburgh derby in the upcoming season.
“Yes,” he laughed, when asked if Scottish football had been big news in Lithuania during Romanov’s roller-coaster reign at Hearts.
“I know all of the players who were at Hearts – Novikovas, Cesnauskis, Mikoliunas ... I have lost a lot of friends – now they won’t speak with me any more!
“I played in the same team [FC Vilnius] as Novikovas when we were about 16 years old and I have met most of the other guys through the national team. I speak with many of them once a week.
“I am really good friends with Marius Zaliukas and he called me to say now we are not friends any more! Marius asked me when we play against Hearts. I said ‘I don’t know, but when we play them, we will kill them!’ Marius said ‘you will see what it is like – it is like a war.’ He is happy for me. He said it is a very good choice for me to come here.”
Matulevicius, who has played his most recent football in the top leagues in Romania and Belgium, had no hesitation in moving to Hibs when informed of their interest last week. With a long-standing desire to test himself in Britain, he wasted little time in packing his bags and heading for Edinburgh. He has signed a two-year contract and is excited by the prospect of acting as a battering ram in the Hibs attack.
“My agent told me Hibs were interested and asked if I wanted to go to Scotland and I was interested straight away,” explained Matulevicius, who is in contention to make his debut in tomorrow’s Betfred Cup match away to Alloa Athletic. “I had watched Scottish football before and I wanted to come here, so it was like a dream for me to come to a club like this to play football.
“I like the fans and the stadiums in Scotland – it is a good league to come to, especially for a player like me. I’m a big striker and there is a lot of fight and physical games here, so that suits my style. I’m a big target man who will go in the box and hold up the ball to help the team.”
Matulevicius is a regular in the Lithuania squad, but has been used primarily as a substitute under Jankauskas. He believes his move to Edinburgh can help him remain a prominent member of the national team set-up and hopes a fast start to the season with Hibs can help ensure his involvement when Lithuania host Scotland in a World Cup qualifier in Vilnius five weeks tonight.
“I didn’t speak to Edgaras about the move,” he said. “I didn’t have time because the move happened so fast. I basically decided in one hour to come here. This is a good platform for me. We have a game against Scotland in one month in Lithuania and I didn’t play at Hampden [in the 1-1 draw last October] so I hope to play this time against Scotland. I must work hard though.”
Matulevicius was pleased to learn that he would be joined in Edinburgh by his compatriot Slivka, the former Juventus midfielder who this week signed a three-year deal with Hibs. For all that he is buoyed by the presence of his countryman, however, Matulevicius insists he would have had no problem settling in even if he had arrived on his own because everyone at his new club has been so welcoming.
“It’s good when you have a friend from your country but when I came here, this team is like a family,” he said. “I was surprised – as soon as I entered the dressing-room, it didn’t feel like I was a new player. Everybody has been so friendly. I really like that.”
Manager Neil Lennon is thrilled to have landed the highly-regarded Slivka on a permanent deal after securing his release from Juventus. Matulevicius has seen the box-to-box 22-year-old develop into one of Lithuania’s key men over the past couple of years and believes he has all the attributes required to make a big impression.
“Vykintas is a technical player who can give good assists,” said Matulevicius. “He will help us in the middle. He is a good player. He was a Juventus player, and it is not easy to get into Juventus. He is technically strong. He has everything that you need.”