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29 of 029

Brellier bites back


Julien Brellier insists he is committed to Hearts’ Champions League bid, even if he is not rated by Vladimir Romanov
Something is bothering Julien Brellier. The dugout isn’t big enough for both of them and one will have to move on. After a few near things with the Frenchman’s left hand, a wasp leaves him in peace. Not all interference can be swatted away so easily and the drone of Vladimir Romanov’s criticisms will always be in the background for the Frenchman. George Burley was asked to put in writing why Brellier should play, as though Hearts’ owner was taking down evidence that could be produced in court, and he later described Brellier as a “three out of 10” player to Claudio Ranieri.

The midfielder could have been forgiven for believing he was as welcome around the club as the wasp was in his personal space at Riccarton on Friday afternoon. Yet as opponents have found, there is a stubborn streak to the man from Grenoble and he wasn’t for moving on with a year left on his contract and the knowledge that he is valued by teammates and supporters. The prospect of Champions League music, too, must drown out all the cavilling.

“The dressing room is very good, we had a great season, I have a very good relationship with the fans and we play Champions League,” he says. Those are the reasons I stayed. My relationship with Mr Romanov? I have never had a problem with him because I have never spoken with him. I have one year left on my contract and I just want to concentrate on my football and get to the Champions League groups.”

He admits he was “angry” at being regularly omitted toward the end of last season, surely at Romanov’s insistence, but adds the support from Hearts fans soothed him whenever he came onto the pitch. Ironically, they sing his praises to the same tune, La Donna E Mobile from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto, that they laud Romanov with. “To have a good relationship with the fans is the best thing for a player. I remember the game when I came on against Aberdeen, when we clinched qualification for the Champions League, and also in the Scottish Cup final. I never lost my confidence but maybe I was a little angry or just a bit down. When you come off the bench and they are singing your name, it is a very good feeling and I want to thank them for that.”

Brellier has no assurances that he will play this season but believes that he has at least clarified his position. “I spoke with Valdas (Ivanauskas) and I think the situation is clear. He will need me. The season is very long and we will play European games. I just want to show what I showed last season, so it is Valdas’s choice.” The Hearts manager currently doesn’t have to make one. With Paul Hartley injured, Brellier and Bruno Aguiar, normally alternatives to each other, will be the central midfield pair for Wednesday’s Champions League qualifier against Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia at Murrayfield, provided Brellier recovers from a tight hamstring in time. He reports that the strain, which saw him come off after just half-an-hour of last Wedneday’s friendly against Osasuna, is loosening. Suddenly, he seems indispensable.

He certainly was at the start of last season when Hearts came flying from the blocks. “It was fantastic to play under George Burley because we were very confident and played some great football. We maybe didn’t feel unbeatable, but we did feel we could play every team without fear.” His debut came in the 4-0 derby win over Hibernian at Tynecastle which, after the cagey strategy of Italian football, seemed as if he had walked onto a treadmill turned up to full speed. Yet the discipline instilled in Serie A was exactly what Burley wanted, a base from which to build Hearts’ breathless attacks and an obstacle to counters from the opposition. Brellier performed an unselfish role superbly, something spotted by fellow professionals and discerning fans if not by Romanov. “It is very tactical football in Italy and I had a manager, Angelo Gregucci, who I played three years for and spoke a lot with. I just learned my job with him at Venezia and Salernitana. We have to find the balance and I am here for that.”

Part of the sacrifice is a tactical foul or two when a colleague is caught out of position and Brellier was booked more than any other Premierleague player last year, picking up 12 yellow cards and one red plus another two yellows in the Scottish Cup. “I can’t score 30 goals a season, so I have to win something,” he smiles. “I want less bookings this year but a lot of my yellow cards . . . sometimes when I saw another game and another player make the same foul, they were not booked. I deserved some of the cards but not all of them. I got a reputation with referees but this is my football and I can’t change it.

“To go through a season without a yellow card is impossible for me, but I want to get booked less. We are a very offensive team and I am the one who stays in front of the defence so I have a lot of bookings when maybe another player has lost the ball and I need to cover for him. I do it for the team, but I don’t enjoy having a lot of yellow cards. I am very happy when I know Paul Hartley can go forward and score because he knows I am here to defend. Every booking now, Paul will pay the fine.”

This brings us neatly to another Frenchman. What did Brellier make of Zinedine Zidane’s sending-off in the World Cup final? “This can happen to any man in this world because you feel injustice. I don’t think it’s a good thing he did but I can understand it because I know (Marco) Materazzi and a lot of players know Materazzi and they know what kind of man he is. I don’t know what he said but I know the reputation he has in Italy. There were always stories there as well.”

Like Didier Agathe, Brellier is a product of Montpellier’s fertile youth system, although it had become a more relaxed regime than the military-style dorms that Agathe once described to me by the time he went through it. By 19, he had attracted recognition as a French youth international and the attention of Inter Milan. He made just one first-team appearance there, unable to force his way through the talent stockpiled by Massimo Moratti’s millions, and although he appreciated Gregucci’s teachings when he went out on loan, he gradually grew weary of the constraints of the Italian game. “Italian football is very hard, very stressed. Players are always stressed, always in hotels and never see their families. It’s good to try this football because it is very professional, very tactical but you can see a lot of empty spaces in the stadiums because the fans are not enjoying the style. There’s not a lot of goals.”

Life in Edinburgh and Scottish football has felt like a release from prison in comparison. He will be joined in the capital by Aurore, his Italian girlfriend, and Maelys, their two-year-old daughter, at the end of the French summer. “Your life here doesn’t really change much from France. It’s a nice city where you can go to visit a lot of things. We like the life and the people here are friendly.”

A predecessor at Hearts was Vincent Guerin, a childhood favourite of Brellier’s, and the man who partnered a certain Paul Le Guen in the midfield of Paris Saint-Germain in the mid-1990s. “Le Guen has a good reputation as a coach and also as a good player but he’s famous in France because he’s a very good man,” he adds. “Before we are players, we are men and this is the most important thing about him. I watched a lot of his games because he played with Paris Saint- Germain in their best seasons. I remember a lot of European games, where he was fantastic. He and Guerin had a very good relationship.”

He believes Le Guen will reinvigorate Rangers but that Hearts can flourish given some much-needed stability. “If we don’t have a lot of changes in the team and the dressing room, I think we will have a very strong team. This season, though, we will not be a surprise, I think all the teams are waiting for Hearts. If we work in a quiet atmosphere, then it will be another fantastic season. Every player in this dressing room wants the same thing and that is to win the title, but we know it will be very hard. We want to move forward in the Champions League too. We want to make something like last year, but better.”

In other words, if only Romanov can stay as far away from the dugout as that pesky wasp did after Brellier chased it.

Taken from

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