Ever the no-nonsense professional and with a healthy sense of perspective, Christophe Berra is not prone to bouts of self-pity. However, the Hearts captain readily concedes that Valdas Ivanauskas’ call to leave him out of the 2006 Scottish Cup final was a gut-punch of a decision.
Faced with a toss-up between home-grown 20-year-old Berra and Senegal internationalist Ibrahim Tall, the Lithuanian erred on the side of caution, and perhaps predictability, by selecting the man personally signed by owner Vladimir Romanov.
A boyhood Jambo robbed of what would have been the biggest outing of his burgeoning career, his disappointment was palpable, but Berra soon turned his attention to supporting his colleagues and ensuring he would be ready to play his part if called upon. His services were not required on the day as Hearts defeated Gretna on penalties following a breathless 1-1 draw.
The young defender lapped up the celebrations with friends and family in the aftermath of the triumph, while his winner’s medal still takes pride of place in the home of parents, Josephine and Christian.
“The last time I was involved in 2006 I was on the bench,” Berra recalled. “I think it was a toss-up between Ibrahim Tall and myself. I was gutted. You have ups and downs and there are periods when you are bitterly disappointed that you are not playing, but you don’t throw the toys out of the pram, you get on with it because you need to be professional.
“You’re representing yourself and representing your team-mates. There’s nothing worse than someone being selfish and thinking about themselves; it’s about what’s best for the team. It does have that strange feeling – if you haven’t played on the day then you might not feel you have contributed in the same way.
“But I was young and I still have good memories. The party was at Murrayfield and we were able to celebrate with team-mates and family. My mum and dad have my medal and I’m one of the very few fortunate enough to have a cup winner’s medal. Hopefully, I’ve a few more years left to compete for more.”
Twelve years on, that remains Berra’s only cup triumph – albeit he was pivotal in Wolves’ Championship title win in 2008-9 – and he is allowing himself to tentatively dream of once again climbing those steps at the national stadium to lift the trophy with Hearts.
“Motherwell is our main task in hand, but getting back to Hampden is definitely an incentive,” he added. “It’s every player’s dream to get to cup finals and play in them and we’re no different.
“If we were to manage to get there this season, given all the chopping and changing at the start of the season – players, managers, Murrayfield, Tynecastle – that would be a massive achievement.”
Hearts’ path to the last-four is a robust one. Motherwell have made physicality, intensity and organisation an art form, with no shortage of potency in the final third, and have been accused of going too far in their industrial approach, most notably during the fiery fall-out from their Betfred Cup semi-final victory against Rangers, during which Ryan Bowman left Fabio Cardoso with a broken nose.
Berra has added his name to those of Pedro Caixinha, Bruno Alves and Brendan Rodgers who have commented on the style of Stephen Robinson’s side. However, he means it as a compliment.
“We’re not the prettiest team just now either but it gets results,” he smiled. “As my old manager Mick McCarthy used to say: ‘There’s more than one way to skin a cat!’
“In every league you get all kinds of teams and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Motherwell are good at what they do and that’s credit to them.”
Friday night’s Edinburgh derby follows Hearts’ cup commitments. The previous encounter between the city rivals – a 1-0 win for Hearts in the last 16 of the Scottish Cup – prompted manager Craig Levein to declare “natural order” had been restored. Hibs manager Neil Lennon ‘didn’t find it funny’.
“Week-by-week, we are seeing the manager I remember,” added Berra, when Levein’s returning mischievous streak is mentioned. “We know, coming into training, exactly what he expects of us and we are ready for a massive end to the season. There is still a lot to fight for.”