FROM the Bernabeu to the Bet Butler is one of the less-travelled routes on European football’s road map, but it is a journey new Hearts signing Miguel Pallardo is all too happy to make. The defensive midfielder, who celebrated his 28th birthday a week ago, has signed a one-year deal with the Tynecastle club after being freed by Levante in his native Spain, and is set to be a key player in the club’s promotion push, according to head coach Robbie Neilson.
Pallardo, whose last game in La Liga was a 3-0 defeat at Real Madrid back in March, is short of match fitness at present, but will at least travel with the Hearts squad to tomorrow’s league match at Dumbarton, where Hearts will be out to make it five wins out of five in the second flight. Neilson, who was yesterday named the Championship manager of the month, said he was delighted to have signed such an able and experienced player. “It’s quite a coup,” he said. “He’s got a good pedigree.
“He’s played a lot of games in La Liga. He’s played for big teams and made some big moves, so I’m delighted to get him in.
“He’s made a big commitment. He’s got a wife and two young kids who will stay over in Spain until January and then move over here. He’s a defensive midfielder: he sits in front of the back four and protects and breaks moves down.
“As you’d expect from someone who’s played a lot in La Liga, he’s got great technique. He understands the game; he moves the ball quickly and intelligently into attacking areas. He’s still a bit away in terms of fitness, but he will be a great addition to the squad and the team.”
He will have to fight for his place in a central midfield that also includes Prince Buaben – suspended after being sent off against Falkirk – and Morgaro Gomis as well as Jason Holt and Scott Robinson, but Neilson believes the competition for places can only help the squad.
“I think he’ll do us a great turn,” continued Neilson, who will also welcome goalkeeper Neil Alexander back into the squad after injury. “He’s played over 100 games in La Liga for top clubs, and that kind of player would grace any club in Scotland. It will be great to have him about the place too, for the younger players to see how to go about their business and to look after themselves.
“We had a call during the window to say he was available, then another call after the window shut. He came over to have a look and he liked the club, the environment and the city.
“He liked what he was hearing and he decided to sign. I was delighted, because I’ve been looking for someone in that position, to give us more strength in depth.
“We’re serious to try and get promoted and we need strength in our squad to do that. We had Prince sent off a fortnight ago and he’ll be missing for two games.
“It’s important that we have players who can come in and fill in and if they do well then Prince has to wait. The competition is there, guys know that, and they know they have to do their best in training if they want to keep their place in the team.
“It’s good to be able to make this signing but that’s our business done now. The team is settled and we will reassess in January. [Chief scout] John Murray is already scouting for potential players in January.”
Born in Alaquas, in Valencia province, Pallardo has represented his country at under-17, under-19 and under-21 level. He spent the first three years of his senior career with Valencia, then moved on first to Getafe then to Levante.
While Pallardo will be expected to learn some English quickly, Neilson and the rest of the coaching staff will also take some Spanish classes in a bid to ensure that nothing is lost in translation between them and their latest recruit. It is just the latest example of the meticulous preparation that is going into the rebuilding exercise at Tynecastle as Hearts try to get back to the top division at the first time of asking.
The attempt is going well so far, with victories over Rangers, Hibernian, Raith Rovers and Falkirk, and Neilson welcomes the additional pressure and expectation that comes with being top of the table. “This is a different pressure, being at the top,” he said.
“It’s about grinding results out, and Hearts are in a good position. I’d rather be the team being chased than the ones doing the chasing.”
Neilson was unanimously selected manager of the month by football writers, but insisted that the coaching staff as a whole were the ones who deserved the credit. And, while pleased to have been recognised, he warned that there was no lasting significance in the monthly award.
“It’s only four games in – if we get awards at the end of the season then we’ll know that we’ve done well and had a successful campaign.
“Who won the last manager of the month in the Championship? Nobody remembers.
“It’s not a huge thing, but it is a pat on the back for the coaching staff and the players. There are guys coming in here at eight in the morning and not leaving until eight at night. They’ve all worked hard and it’s results on the park that are our reward.”