Palazuelos insists four years at Hearts has made him a better player

AROUND the corridors of Riccarton and Tynecastle, the toothy grin and bubbly personality of Ruben Palazuelos have been a constant over the last four years. The happy-go-lucky Spaniard immersed himself and his family in Scottish life and, by his own admission, improved significantly as a footballer with Hearts.

Now he is a mix of emotions as reality sinks in. His time in Edinburgh is almost certainly over. His Hearts contract has run its course and club officials have not offered a renewal. Feeling slightly doleful, Palazuelos has returned to northern Spain to ponder his future. He is philosophical enough to realise life must go on.

The midfielder already has a verbal offer for next season from "another club in another country". He won't confirm whether that country is Cyprus. He left Scotland with a heavy heart and some abiding memories. From stunning equalisers at Ibrox to red cards at Easter Road, it was nothing if not eventful. Most important for the player was personal development. Having arrived in 2007 as a stereotypical Iberian ball-player, he added a robust aspect to his play which he hopes can serve him well on the continent.

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"I think playing in Scotland made me a better player," says Palazuelos. "They play more physical football, everyone is stronger. I have a Spanish style and I want to keep the ball. But I think maybe now I am a better player, more physical, and this is good for my future. I will tell you when I am in another country and we can see how I play," he laughed.

"In my four years in Scotland I had many different coaches. Some coaches have good methods and others have bad methods but this is normal. Scottish football is totally different to Spanish football and football in other countries. The tactics are different and the style of play is different."

Evidence of Palazuelos' new-found tenacity can perhaps be found in a disciplinary record which pales in comparison to other SPL players, but which the player himself is unhappy with.

"I don't know what happened with me the last two years. I got too many red cards, this never happened with me before. But it's okay. This time is finished and we will see what happens in the future."

In truth he was sent off twice last season and once the year before. Hardly a record to cloud recollections of life with Hearts in years to come.

"I had a long time at Hearts because I was there for four seasons.

We finished in third position twice and qualified for Europe. I scored some good goals, like the one against Rangers at Ibrox. I have some very good friends in Edinburgh but things happen in football. Sometimes you stay, sometimes you move.

"I am very proud I played for Hearts and I am very happy about this. I lived with my wife and my child in Scotland, my wife was very happy there and we had some very good moments. Life was perfect but it's okay. Maybe my time is finished there and I have to look forward.

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"I had a very good relationship with the Hearts supporters, they are one of the best groups of fans in the world. They always support their players.

"Part of football is having a relationship with the fans.

"I had many good moments at Hearts and I played a lot of games. It's difficult to pick a best moment. Scoring at Ibrox against Rangers was fantastic. Winning at Easter Road against Hibs is always great too. There are so many good memories for me, it's difficult to think of only one."

Palazuelos leaving equates to Hearts releasing the last remnant of the Pedro Lopez era. It was the former deputy chief executive who handed the Spaniard a substantial contract worth in the region of 10,000 a week when he arrived in 2007. Lopez had done likewise with Chilean forward Mauricio Pinilla and others beforehand. That level of salary would cause outright apoplexy in Vladimir Romanov's Kaunas headquarters in this new era of financial prudence.

"Maybe Hearts will call me now and give me a good offer, I don't know," says Palazuelos. "At the moment I don't know what is happening but I am a little disappointed with the people there. I played there for four years and they have not said anything to me. I expect more from some people working at Hearts but always there are people like this.

"Maybe the economy is not so good at the moment but I spent four years there. I played under every coach, every season I played many games so maybe I expected them to give me something. But I also understand because it's football and these things can happen."

In addition to Cyprus there is talk of interest from Greece, where Palazuelos previously played with Aris Salonika, ahead of next season. Wherever he ends up he feels confident of adjusting with the benefit of experiences gained in the SPL. "I have played in Greece and I have played in Spain. Life is easier in Spain because I am back with my family but I don't have a problem in another country. This is my football career and it doesn't matter if you play in one country or another. I don't have a problem playing in any country."

Wherever he goes, Ruben Palazuelos Garcia will continue smiling and will always look back on four years at Tynecastle with a grin of affection