Striker Esmael Goncalves last night became Hearts’ ninth signing of the transfer window on a day when the Tynecastle club also signed two experienced Greek players.
Alex Tziolis, a defensive midfielder, and centre-half Tasos Avlonitis joined earlier in the day on short-term deals until the end of the season, from PAOK and Olympiacos respectively.
But it is former St Mirren striker Goncalves, 25, in whom the Tynecastle club are investing their faith, paying Anorthosis Famagusta a sum of around £175,000 for his services on a three-and-a-half-year deal. It is the first time Hearts have paid a transfer fee for a player since exiting administration in June 2014, although they did pay a development fee to Queen of the South for Gavin Reilly.
The deal was confirmed yesterday evening after tense negotiations with the Cypriot club’s president, Andreas Panteli. Hearts had been warned that they would need to pay an acceptable fee for the striker, who scored against Hearts for St Mirren in the Paisley side’s League Cup win in 2013 while on loan from Rio Ave, a Portuguese club.
It was in Portugal where the striker first encountered Hearts head coach Ian Cathro, while Goncalves also worked with Austin MacPhee, the Tynecastle assistant head coach, at St Mirren.
Anorthosis Famagusta fans are unhappy Goncalves, who scored for the club in a 5-0 Greek Cup win over ASIL Lysi at the weekend, has been allowed to leave. But the striker was determined to return to Scotland to team up once more with Cathro, who was assistant manager at Rio Ave.
“He’s a very intelligent guy,” he said last night. “I worked with him in Portugal. He was the second coach. He was very intelligent already at this time and he made a lot of tactics in training and you could see he was going far.
“I know Ian, I know Austin too and it’s a good reason to come,” he added. “They like me and I like them also, so it makes the job easier.”
Confirmation of his arrival crowned a busy day at Hearts yesterday. Greek pair Tziolis and Avlonitis had already arrived at Tynecastle and all three new arrivals come into contention for tomorrow night’s home league clash against Rangers.
Tziolis, 31, has played 62 times for Greece, appearing at the 2010 World Cup finals and also at Euro 2008. His former clubs include Pananthinaikos, Werder Bremen, where he won a Europa League runner’s up medal in 2009, and Monaco.
Compatriot Avlonitis, meanwhile, has six years’ experience playing in the Greek top flight and spent part of last season on loan at Austrian club Sturm Graz. He returned to Greece this season but did not make a first-team appearance before having his contract terminated by mutual consent.
The centre-half has been signed as a short-term replacement for John Souttar, who is reported to have torn his Achilles during Sunday’s 4-0 defeat by Celtic. The Tynecastle club are expected to confirm Souttar’s diagnosis at a press conference this morning, with fears he could be absent for as long as ten months.
Goncalves will also be present at a press conference this morning after meeting his new team-mates yesterday. The three latest arrivals means Cathro has made good his pledge to rebuild the squad.
The head coach, who only arrived in December himself, has also signed Lennard Sowah, Andraz Struna, Malaury Martin, Aaron Hughes, Dylan Bikey and Moha El Ouriachi Choulay, while there is still interest in bringing defender Christophe Berra back to the club from Ipswich Town.
Cathro goes into tomorrow night’s match hoping to secure only his second league win since replacing Robbie Neilson, who left to take over at MK Dons.