HEARTS new signing Juanma revealed he has placed on-field ambition ahead of financial reward by signing for the capital club.
Courted by Bristol City, the Spanish striker turned down their more lucrative offer, saying he believes the newly promoted Scottish Premier League side offers him a better springboard for success. It was not the only monetary sacrifice required from the 24-year-old. Walking away from bigger wages and an outstanding debt owed to him by his former employers, Kalloni, in order to engineer his departure, he has also had to sign a deal which promises the Greek side financial recompense if his career takes off at Tynecastle and he goes on to secure a move to one of Europe’s top four leagues – Spain, Germany, Italy or England.
But, having met with Hearts manager Robbie Neilson and canvassed the opinion of both Miguel Pallardo and Scottish Cup winner Suso Santana, he is convinced the financial hit will be worth it.
“There was another club in the UK interested in me but I felt Hearts was the best option. I felt I had a lot more opportunity to play here so we pushed that. I preferred Hearts,” said the striker, speaking through his translator and agent, Clive Jagger. “When we analysed both options, I felt Hearts was the best decision because I would have more playing time. I liked Robbie Neilson’s style of play, his mentality and his attitude to the game.
“We had long conversations about this and we all decided this one was the best option. Robbie really wanted me and he made that really clear. I’m convinced I’m going to play here and it was a career decision I made.”
But the deal look set to crumble when Kalloni decided to activate a one-year pre-agreed contract extension, leading to frantic negotiations and the eventual agreement which gives the Lesbos-based side a vested interest in their former top goalscorer’s future career.
I felt I had a lot more opportunity to play here. I just want to start playing and scoring goalsJuanma
“He was on more money at Kalloni because pay is all net there. He just believes British football is his football,” said his agent. “He had a car and a house all included in the deal over there. He’s going to pay those himself here. He’s taken a salary cut to come here so he isn’t thinking about money.
“Juanma has forgiven salary he was owed to leave Greece. There is a private agreement that Juanma will give them financial compensation if he goes to one of the top four leagues in Europe. That was to convince them what we wanted to do and what we were prepared to give them.”
“I was convinced this was where I had to be. This is where I had to come,” added Juanma. “There was a lot of anxiety at one time when I thought the move wouldn’t happen. We managed to get through it and solve it. I was very sad at one point when I thought I was going to sign a few weeks back but then something else came up. I tried not to show it.”
A player who idolised Fernando Torres and would love to follow his hero’s career path to the English top flight, the imposing striker feels his style is best suited to the British game. The ultimate ambition is to swap the Scottish leagues for those down south but he is willing to be patient, prove himself and wait for the right club. Newly-promoted Championship side Bristol City did not satisfy that criteria despite the more sizeable wages, according to Jagger, who said that was a “step further” and claiming that any big move across the border could wait another couple of years.
“He’s going to get time to play and score goals. A forward who doesn’t play or score is useless,” said Jagger.
He also insisted that he is confident his client can eventually make it to the top but in the interim Juanma is focused on helping Hearts make an impact in their first term back in the Scottish Premier League and, in doing so win the affection of the Gorgie fans.
“I’m convinced I can get there, I just want to start playing and scoring goals. I have no doubt I can reach the very top. How realistic is getting to England? It will be a process, game by game. I need to score goals. It’s a long process and we have to see how things go. When I spoke to Robbie, he was so enthusiastic about me coming to the club.”
And it seems the Hearts gaffer can thank players past and present for helping to seal the deal. Pallardo, who became a key player last term as Hearts romped to victory in the Championship title race, signed a fresh one-year deal last month and helped sell the club to his fellow Spaniard. But so too did former winger and 2012 Scottish Cup winner Santana, revealed Juanma. “Myself and Suso have a mutual friend so I spoke to him about what it would be like at Hearts. The message came back that it was a great city and a great club, very professional. I also met up with Miguel a few months ago and he said it was a fantastic place to play.”