Joaquim Adao will wear 66 on the back of his shirt but the significance of the digits is tattooed on the back of his hand.
Hearts’ latest recruit, the Angolan midfielder who has joined the club on loan from FC Sion until the end of the season, became emotional when asked why he picked the squad number. His answer was an insight into the influence of those around him.
“It is a personal story,” said the 25-year-old. “Throughout my life I normally wear the No 6 jersey. But two years ago I was away with the national team and on the sixth of June, 2016, I got a phone call from my mother to tell me my dad was dead. From then I said I would wear 66 for my dad.”
The back of his hand, underlines his devotion to the departed, Joao, the ink script proclaiming: “Love you, dad” followed by the date when his world threatened to crumble.
But, Adao is a tough guy on and off the pitch. When Hearts expressed an interest in the player who has struggled to make an impact at his Swiss club in the wake of a management change, he says he was enthusiastic to kickstart his career in a league that suits his strengths as a player.
“I asked what [former Hearts player and ex-Sion colleague] Jose Goncalves thought about Hearts and Scottish football and he said it would be a very good choice for me because of my characteristics. I play with my heart. My mentality is to be a winner. I am here to win lots of games – I want success. When you have success, you have more opportunities and the fans like you. When you don’t win games it is not nice – I want to win. I believe we can do well in the league and the Scottish Cup.”
It was time to branch out after a disappointing start to the latest campaign in Switzerland. “Last season I played 30 games, I was playing well and everything was good. But this season we have changed the coach and for a lot of players who had been there a long time, a lot has changed.”
Having played with and for former Rangers star Rino Gattuso, the fact the Italian midfielder, who is considered something of a blueprint for Adao’s approach, thrived in Scotland offered the Hearts signing even more encouragement to make the switch.
“I played with Rino Gattuso, then after six months he was made the manager. We had a good season with Gattuso as manager. I play a similar position and he taught me so much. Playing with him was like a lesson. I know that Gattuso played football in Scotland before going back over to Italy and having so much success.
“He plays aggressive, strong, he is a fighter,” said Adao, who is in the squad for today’s match against St Johnstone. “He was a crazy man. But he’s not crazy for nothing. He is very professional. He is crazy about football. If you don’t press well or give your all he will come at you. He is a winner. I like that. When you play beside or work under a guy like that you can only get better. I was a younger player but I learned a lot from Gattuso.”
But it is the chance to meet up with Celtic again that excites Adao. He was a youngster at FC Sion when a decision to field ineligible players against the Scottish champions led to them being ousted from the Europa League.
“Yes, Sion won but they were disqualified,” he said. “It was back in 2011. I was 16 years old and I watched the game. I watched the games on television but now I would like to play against Celtic for real.”
Aware of the physicality and pace of the Scottish game, Adao will need to get up to speed quickly as manager Craig Levein relies on him to provide a midfield barricade that is tough for opponents to get through and solid enough to free up the more attack-minded colleagues around him to advance further up the park as Hearts aim to add a greater goal threat to their dogged defensive performances in the second half of the league campaign.