Where are they now? 11 Hearts signings from 2006 January window

Then Hearts boss Graham Rix with five of the 11. From left to right: Bruno Aguiar, Mirsad Beslija, Chris Hackett, Jose Goncalves and Juho Makela. Picture: SNS
Then Hearts boss Graham Rix with five of the 11. From left to right: Bruno Aguiar, Mirsad Beslija, Chris Hackett, Jose Goncalves and Juho Makela. Picture: SNS
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It’s been almost 10 years since Vladimir Romanov bloated the Hearts squad with 11 new additions from one January transfer window. We delved into the football world to discover what all those ‘stars’ are up to now.

Bruno Aguiar

There is no doubt the Portuguese midfielder had the best Hearts career of any player on this list. Although, in true Hearts-under-Romanov fashion, it wasn’t all plain sailing.

Aguiar was a regular in the first-team squad before he was forced from the game for 18 months by a shockingly robust tackle – by his own team-mate, Julien Brellier, in training.

He spent the remainder of the 2006/07 season and the entirety of the following campaign trying to get back to full fitness.

Once he did return, however, his form was better than at any other point in his Hearts career. He was the biggest attacking threat on Csaba Laszlo’s conservative side that finished third in 2009, even finishing as top league scorer with a whopping seven goals.

Where is he now? Aguiar left to join Omonia in Cyprus at the conclusion of that campaign. He would spend five years there before returning to his native Portugal with Clube Oriental de Lisboa. He is still playing there now at the age of 34.

READ MORE - Comeback goal in derby was my Hearts high - Aguiar

Nerijus Barasa

Often described as a ‘plumber’ by some Hearts fans, the stocky right back arrived in January via a loan from Kaunas. (Note: a number of these deals arrived via loans from Kaunas. It was what Hearts did, even if the player never featured for the Lithuanian side. In the interests of brevity, this is the only time that fact will be mentioned.)

Barasa spent some time in the side ahead of Robbie Neilson in the 2006/07 campaign and the ire directed towards him from the stands prompted Sporting Director Alex Kozlovski to suggest the club’s support were racist – another in a long line of terrific PR moves from those in charge.

Injury forced Barasa from contention soon after and he was forced to retire in 2009, age 29.

WIHN? After retiring Barasa started up a building business in Russia and disappeared from football’s radar.

READ MORE - Barasa recalls his dark days at Tynecastle

Mirsad Bešlija

A seemingly never-ending transfer saga between Hearts and the player’s club Genk was finally resolved when the winger signed for a £850,000 fee, making him the most expensive signing in the club’s history.

Nicknamed the ‘Bosnian Bullet’ – presumably with the same sincerity you’d call the fat guy in your five-a-side team ‘Usain Bolt’ – Bešlija was a huge flop in Gorgie.

Fans barely saw him for the remainder of the 2005/06 season, and while there was a brief clamour for him to start after a terrific performance against Dundee United the following campaign, injuries soon wrecked the remainder of his Hearts career. He cost £122,000 a start.

WIHN? He retired from football at the end of the 2012/13 season after spending four years at Željezničar back in his native homeland.

José Gonçalves

Things weren’t all bad in this January window. Without the spending spree Hearts fans would never have been treated to Goncalves and his ability to see the ball safely out of play from any distance, regardless of how slowly it was moving. Seriously, there has never and will never be another player as good at executing that specific skill as the Portuguese defender, nicknamed ‘The Shepherd’.

Aside from that particular party-trick, he was a fairly handy defender. This was evidenced by Thierry Henry selecting him in his Champions League select XI from the 2004/05 season, when Arsenal went to the final and defeated Goncalves’ team FC Thun along the way.

Injuries and strong contention at his natural position of centre back kept him on the sidelines for a lot of his three-and-a-half-year Hearts career. And when he finally established himself as a first-team regular, he was ousted from the team and kept in the stands for failing to sign a new deal.

WIHN? Goncalves has carved out a very respectable career for himself in the MLS where he’s been a hero of the New England Revolution fans since 2013. He even won the MLS Defender of the Year award in 2013.

READ MORE - Cup final countdown: Jose Goncalves recalls the 2006 semi-final

Chris Hackett

Before things went spectacularly wrong between Graham Rix and Vladimir Romanov – that is, unless you count his initial hiring as something going ‘spectacularly wrong’ – the much-maligned manager was allowed to go out and pick up a couple of players he wanted on the cheap.

One of these players was Hackett, who arrived for a fee of £20k from Oxford United.

Even before his biggest advocate was binned in favour of Valdas Ivanauskas, Hackett didn’t have much of a career at Tynecastle. He played twice under Rix and was never seen again.

WIHN? After leaving he carved out a decent career for Millwall over a period of six seasons and is on his way to doing the same with Northampton Town, having been playing regularly with the club since 2012. UPDATE: Hackett joined Barnet on loan earlier this week. So, yeah, best of luck Chris.

Lee Johnson

The second signing on Rix’s insistence. Johnson wasn’t a bad player, but he had little chance of a career at Tynecastle after the manager who signed him was given the boot.

He did play in a memorable 4-1 win over Hibs, though this was one of only five appearances from the neat and tidy midfield player.

He did reappear in Scottish football some time later, helping Kilmarnock to win the League Cup in 2012.

WIHN? After retiring, Johnson moved into management. He followed a two-year spell with Oldham by taking charge of Barnsley last year.

READ MORE - Romanov hits back at Johnson’s parting shot

Juho Makela

The man who scored against Barcelona.

Hearts squared off against the Catalan giants in a pre-season friendly and for a brief period the hosts were level with a side that boasted Ronaldinho, Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry within its ranks. Makela was the man who got that goal.

It was undoubtedly his finest moment in a Hearts top as he never came close to justifying the £500k fee paid to prise him from HJK Helsinki. He once tapped in a wicked cross from Bešlija in a league win over Dundee United. Hearts fans often refer to that strike as the “£1.3m goal” as that’s all either really contributed despite the money spent.

WIHN? ‘Big Juho’ is still playing with Finnish club VPS. This season he’s banged in 15 goals.

Raïs M’Bolhi

Having paraded five new signings on deadline day, in addition to three who’d arrived previously, it seemed Hearts were done for January. Everyone awoke the next morning to find that wasn’t the case at all, as Romanov had managed to squeeze in another three (THREE!) additions before the window slammed shut. One of whom was M’Bolhi.

The young goalkeeper arrived on a free transfer having left Marseille. At least, that’s the official version of events. Hearts fans wouldn’t have been any wiser if the club had made the whole thing up, seeing as he never made a single first-team appearance before leaving in the summer.

M’Bolhi later appeared on our TV screens when he represented Algeria as their first choice goalkeeper at the 2010 World Cup. Hearts fans were forced to watch on enviously as he recorded a clean sheet in a group match against England.

WIHN? The stopper, despite featuring 41 times for his nation, has enjoyed a nomadic career with stints in Greece, Bulgaria, Russia and the United States to his name. He’s now playing with Antalyaspor in the Turkish top flight.

Neil McCann

When people say you should never go back, McCann’s return to Hearts is a classic example of exactly what they mean.

McCann left Tynecastle a flying winger and returned a pirouetting centre midfielder – and not a good one at that. In fairness, he looked exactly like his old self on his debut away at Kilmarnock for the opening 25 minutes before a hard, but fair, challenge from David Lilley caused something to go in McCann’s knee, forcing him out of contention for the rest of the season and apparently robbing him of his acceleration.

He played a squad rotation role in the 2006/07 season before a leg break put paid to his appearances in a maroon jersey at the beginning of the following campaign.

WIHN? McCann is now a pundit for SkySports. He was previously on the coaching staff at Dunfermline Athletic before leaving last year.

Martin Petras

The Slovakian defender is looked at as a ‘what if’ tale from this January window.

Having signed alongside M’Bolhi and Stracený, Petras was shunted around the side in his five league appearances and never got the chance to settle. His career away from Tynecastle – where he played for Sparta Prague and a couple of Italian Serie A clubs, along with 38 caps for his country – would suggest he should have been a good signing.

His case wasn’t helped by being one of the players forced into the starting XI at the insistence of Romanov. It was always presumed the owner had some influence on team selection, but it was only confirmed after Rix complained to the press that he had not picked the team for a match at Dundee United.

WIHN? Petras retired last year after a season with Fiorita, a club in the San Marino top flight. He has since stated his ambition to go into management.

Luděk Stracený

The last of the three players to have signed sometime between Hearts fans going to their beds on deadline day and waking up the next morning, Stracený was the poorest of the lot. That’s not an opinion this writer states lightly, remember M’Bolhi never even played!

Another forced into the starting XI against Dundee United, the Czech midfielder made one more appearance as a substitute before disappearing in the summer.

Looking back at his career, the fact he played for Sparta Prague and represented his country would tell you he had some ability and was, potentially, another victim of the complete circus Hearts were at the time.

WIHN? Stracený retired from football in 2009 after three years with Viktoria Žižkov. He then moved into coaching and is now back with his first club Sparta Prague.


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