VLADIMIR ROMANOV will address the Hearts team in the Hampden Park dressing room before today’s historic Scottish Cup final with Hibs. According to captain Marius Zaliukas, the Tynecastle club would not be involved in the season’s showpiece were it not for their majority shareholder.
Zaliukas revealed that Romanov will be in the Hearts dressing-room prior to kick-off and will deliver a speech to the players collectively. The Russian entrepreneur has not always been popular with supporters but has travelled from Lithuania to witness the biggest match in Hearts’ history.
“This is the biggest Edinburgh derby ever,” explained Zaliukas. “I keep reading everywhere in the newspapers about this game and everyone is so excited. I’ve not had people stopping me in the street yet but hopefully that will start on Saturday night and it will be Hearts fans celebrating.
“I spoke to Mr Romanov a week ago on the telephone and he is coming over on Saturday. He is going to come to the dressing room and speak to us before the game. He didn’t have any message for us over the phone yet. He will deliver it in the dressing room.
“He did speak to us (before the semi-final win over Celtic) but this is not the Celtic game. When he speaks it doesn’t give me extra motivation but, for the team, it probably does. Everyone knows how big this game is. Everyone wants to be on this pitch and everyone wants to win it anyway.
“I hope this shows that Mr Romanov is still interested in Hearts and hopefully he will be for many years ahead. He saved the club and now we are at this final because of him. An Edinburgh final win would be a great way to remind him what a great club Hearts are.
“Six years ago, I remember watching on the internet how everyone celebrated the Scottish Cup final win and hopefully this weekend is a reminder to him because obviously this will be bigger. It’s the biggest derby game ever in Scotland. Is it bigger than Barca v Real Madrid? For local people in Edinburgh, it’s probably bigger, yes. I’m sure Mr Romanov will enjoy it and that he will keep supporting the club.”
Zaliukas will become the first Hearts captain since Steven Pressley to lift silverware should Hearts succeed this afternoon. The Lithuanian admitted that may prompt a flood of tears. “I will be very pleased if we win the cup but it doesn’t matter who is the captain,” he continued. “We need a team performance to bring home the cup. It’s going to be a good achievement if we do it and I will be very happy to be captain.
“I watched the videos of Hearts winning the cup six years ago. Last month, after the semi-final against Celtic, I watched them again and watched all the former players celebrating. The cup was at Tynecastle and all through the streets of Edinburgh and it was amazing to watch. All of my body got goosebumps when I watched that video. If we do win it them I’m probably going cry.
“I know all of the old Hearts legends. I spoke to the 1998 cup-winning team recently at a function in the club but I know John Colquhoun really well as he is my agent. He told me all about how important this game is. He finished playing ten years ago and he’s still so excited about this final against Hibs.
“It would be great if I was invited back to Tynecastle in ten years’ time as the Scottish Cup winner of 2012. And it will happen. Everyone is so excited and we all want to do it. I believe we will do it.”
Compared to the Lithuanian Cup final, which can be attended by crowds as low as 1000, the Scottish equivalent is on a totally different scale. Zaliukas is thankful for the disparity. “This is a bigger game than against Celtic or Rangers,” he said. “When I was a young boy Kaunas used to play Celtic or Rangers in the Champions League qualifiers so I thought that would be the big game. But then, when I came here and saw the Edinburgh derby, I was like “wow”.
“I was excited to come over here because it was a huge step for me. In Lithuania there were 200 people at games and at the Lithuanian Cup final there are only around 1000. I remember getting a phone call at 9am before training with Kaunas in August 2006. It was Mr Romanov and he said to me, ‘get ready, you’re going to Scotland this afternoon.’ It was a big step for me and I’m happy I took it. To be honest I didn’t think I’d still be here after six years. Lithuanians were coming and going and I thought that would happen to me but I’m still here. I’m now third or fourth oldest in the team.
“It has been hard at times. It was really hard to adapt to the lifestyle and football style over here at first. Even the traffic is different to Lithuania. Everything was different but I’m glad I’ve lasted six years and I hope I’m going to continue. I never thought about going home but it was tough. Every transfer window I saw Lithuanians leaving and Lithuanians coming and I thought maybe I would be going but I’m still here.”
With time, Zaliukas has grown to love the club which employs him. “I am a Jambo for life now. It’s a special club and it is now in my heart.”
That won’t change, regardless of whether he lifts the Scottish Cup today.