ROBBIE Neilson has revealed that Hearts knew about the match-fixing allegations against Miguel Pallardo when they signed him earlier this year.
The head coach – who yesterday secured the services of Prince Buaben on a new, long-term contract – remains convinced of the Spanish midfielder’s innocence, and is confident that his form will not be affected by the case, which only came to light this week.
Pallardo is one of 42 people who have been accused by a Spanish fiscal of involvement in the fixing of a league match in May 2011 between Real Zaragoza and Levante, the club with whom he was on loan at the time. Zaragoza won the game 2-1 to ensure their survival in the top flight, and the fiscal has alleged that the Zaragoza players had money paid into their accounts which they then disbursed in cash to the Levante squad.
While there is electronic evidence of the payments to the Zaragoza squad, the fiscal has admitted there is no proof that the Levante players received the money. Neilson said that Hearts were therefore convinced that the 28-year-old, who joined them on a one-year deal, had no case to answer.
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“We’ve known about it for months, and I’m surprised it’s taken so long for it to come out,” he said yesterday. “Miguel came in August and we knew about it then. The agent told us about it, but we knew he didn’t have a case to answer.”
Pallardo was on loan from Getafe at the time of the disputed match, and his parent club ended the season below Zaragoza, just a point clear of the demoted bottom three. Neilson added that the relegation threat that Getafe were under meant it would have made no sense for Pallardo to be part of a conspiracy to preserve Zaragoza’s place in the top flight.
“At the time Miguel was on loan to the club [Levante]. If you look at it and the way the result went, it affected his [parent] club. I don’t think there’s anything there to worry about.
“He’s an experienced player and it won’t affect him – and it won’t affect how we deal with him here. His agent spoke to us about it and we knew what the situation was; we knew what his side of the story was.
“The way it‘s come out in Spain, it seems that the players that were in his team don’t have a case to answer. It was the other ones that were involved. It was an allegation made against the club and he was part of the club, you can’t isolate one player in it. He’s come here and done fantastically well for us.”
It is now up to a judge in Valencia to decide whether the evidence presented by the fiscal is strong enough to merit prosecution. In the meantime, Pallardo, who has proven his value to Hearts with a string of impressive performances, remains available for selection.
The news that Buaben had signed a new deal that will take him up to 2018 was announced yesterday afternoon on the Hearts website, and hailed by Neilson as a vital element of his long-term planning.
“I’m delighted to get Prince tied up here,” Neilson said of the 26-year-old midfielder, who joined in July on a one-year contract. “He’s a top player and has been huge for us – a real integral part of the season. The pleasing thing is there’s a lot more to come from him.
“We could’ve lost him in January, but he wants to stay and that’s great. Prince signing a long-term deal is as important as bringing in new players. It’s important that we get our stars tied up on deals and happy. Prince has a great attitude and is well respected by his team-mates and is a great player for the young boys to look up to.”
The postponement of last Saturday’s match at Cowdenbeath has given Hearts a busy festive schedule, with tomorrow’s game at home to Alloa being followed by the rearranged match at Central Park on Tuesday night then the visit to Livingston on Saturday 27th. But Neilson will stick to his original plan of allowing the squad to spend Christmas Day at home with their families.
“I just feel that, when you come in on Christmas Day, you train for an hour and the boys usually have their minds on other things and getting back to their families. Christmas is on the Thursday, so they will come in on Boxing Day and then play on the Saturday.
“They’re a good group and they’re experienced. They know how to look after themselves, so I’ve no problems with that. I just felt the guys would appreciate a day off and they can enjoy themselves with their family. It’s great we’ve managed to arrange the [Cowdenbeath] fixture so soon. We wanted to get points on the board and this game gives us an opportunity to do that and not wait until January or February. It will give us a chance to go there when the pitch is maybe still in a decent position. I would prefer to play Saturday-Saturday but we had to arrange this game and the sooner we get it done the better.”
As a result of the postponement, Morgaro Gomis will now complete his suspension against Alloa and be available for the trip to Fife. Sam Nicholson is available again after injury, while Dale Carrick, a longer-term injury absentee, has now resumed training.
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