WHEN even a new signing from abroad talks about “the project”, you get some idea of how meticulously Hearts have been planning their revival.
A player of Miguel Pallardo’s pedigree might be forgiven for saying he had come from his native Spain to Scotland in search of regular football, or because he saw it as a stepping stone to the land of milk and honey south of the Border. Instead, the 28-year-old midfielder insisted that he had bought into every aspect of the club, and that he wanted to contribute as much as possible to its bid to get out of the Championship at the earliest opportunity.
“The moment I had the option of Hearts I learned about the history, the supporters and the stadium,” said Pallardo, whose talks with the club had been conducted very much under the radar before he signed a one-year deal on Thursday morning. “It is a Premiership club in itself.
“With everything that surrounded the club, I was convinced from the first moment. I’ve come here to help the project along and be part of the history.
“I want to grow as a player and a person, but at the moment I am focused on the project here at Hearts and see where that takes me. Why can’t I play in Europe again at Hearts? The first thing is to win the league this season and take things step by step. When we are back in the Premiership anything is possible.”
Pallardo will travel with Robbie Neilson’s squad to Dumbarton today, but, having not played a senior game since turning out for Levante against Real Madrid six months ago, may have to content himself with a place on the bench for the time being. If he does get some playing time, however, he is determined to display exactly the same attitude against the Championship strugglers as he did against the most successful team in Champions League history. He said: “Football is football. I’m going to approach the Dumbarton game with exactly the same mentality as Real Madrid. The same drive and the same commitment. I will give everything to win the game, the same as I do in every game.
“My ideal position is defensive midfield, just in front of the back two. I can play further forward and have occasionally played right-back – very occasionally! But my natural position is defensive midfield.
“I know exactly what my role is on the pitch. I hold my position and I help the team. I come out and play the ball and I have a high work rate to get the ball back when the team loses it. My commitment is 100 per cent.”
When he represented his country at under-17, under-19 and under-21 levels, Pallardo played in the company of such names as Juan Mata and Roberto Soldado, now playing in England for Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur respectively. Although he has not made anything like the progress of those two, he still regards them and other former international team-mates as friends, and thinks that with sympathetic management he can get his career back on track.
“I don’t speak to them every day but I still have a relationship with them. I’m sure when they find out I’m here I’ll be getting messages from them and I’ll start speaking to them,” he added.
“It was a great privilege to play with players like that. I learned a lot from them and they learned things from me. I hoped to get to a high level after I started at Valencia, but I’ve had one of those unlucky periods. It has left me on the border of being top and not getting the opportunities.
“I had a change of manager and I didn’t get an opportunity with that manager, and that happened to me two or three times. One of the problems in Spain is there is a lot of instability with managers. One day you have a manager who believes in you and you’re playing every game. Two weeks later you have another manager who doesn’t play you.”
Married with two young children, Pallardo has left his family at home for the time being in order to concentrate on integrating with his new club and learning English. “There was no doubt in my decision to come to Scotland,” he insisted. “I liked the opportunity. My family are fine in Valencia and I want to get settled, get my English going and they can come over in December. I’ll find my feet here first.”
Hearts have already found their feet in the Championship, having won their opening four games. If Pallardo even comes close to displaying the ability he showed in the early stages of his career, the chances of “the project” being successful will be all the greater.