London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Csaba Laszlo <-auth David Ferguson auth-> Steve Conroy
Stewart Michael [D Cadamarteri pen 3] ;[D Cadamarteri 86]
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Stewart given the armband ahead of bad boy Zaliukas

MICHAEL Stewart will captain Hearts this season, with Marius Zaliukas his vice-captain in what manager Csaba Laszlo described as a very "close" leadership team.
After emphasising the importance of handing the armband to a Scot who has good media skills, Laszlo made it clear that he will be expecting Zaliukas to change his attitude and lead by example following a spate of disciplinary lapses last season.

tewart has been no angel himself, but was chosen ahead of Zaliukas because he is a Scottish international who carries the respect of his team-mates. Now in his second spell at the club after signing on a free transfer in the summer of 2007, the 28-year-old has collected three red and 13 yellow cards over the past two seasons but has established himself as the key man in the centre of the Hearts midfield.

The main question mark hanging over Zaliukas in particular, was his indiscipline. The Lithuanian centre-back was sent off four times last season and has accumulated five red cards overall in his three years at the club.

With the team preparing for a whirlwind start to the season with an SPL opener away to Dundee United on Monday night and then Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League play-off next Thursday, Laszlo wants to work with both players to improve their leadership skills.

He said: "For me, it is very important that we have a captain who is Scottish, is good with the media and has played for the national team.

"We had a similar situation with (Christophe] Berra, but Marius is also very close to Mike and to me, and at the moment this is my decision. It's very important to have a good spirit in the dressing room and I think Mike has a lot of knowledge about football.

"But the two will be close and share responsibility. For example, Marius is coming with me to the SFA meeting at Hampden and will feature in the promotional photograph for the Clydesdale Bank. Michael will do other jobs but we will share and we will learn and grow together.

"If Marius is in charge he must be exemplary in his attitude, and think a little bit differently now. Last year, we talked about so many indisciplined situations on the field, and the red cards, but I would like to help Marius so that he knows 100 per cent what he has to do every day. Mike also needs some help with decisions. But we talk with each other and will go forward with these two players in charge of the team, and the players accept this."

The manager revealed that he had been very close to signing striker Ilco Naumovski, who scored Macedonia's match-winner against Scotland last September. However, the 26-year-old, who scored 16 goals in 40 games for Austrian side Mattersburg last season, opted instead to join Spanish side Almeria, who finished 11th in La Liga last season.

"We were very close to signing a contract with Naumovski," said Laszlo, "but he has decided to go to Spain. It was very close; everything was ready, but the player said 'no'. I will not speak negatively about a player; he was free to choose.

"But he was one player we felt had the ability to play in the SPL, definitely. He is a good footballer and was always our target, and it was very close. But now it's finished and we will look at other possibilities. But (with the European deadline passed] we will not rush it. We will look for the best solution.

"It is not easy, especially when you know every team has their first games this weekend and so it's no accident that there are players who don't have a contract. Van Nistelrooy from Real Madrid might be good, but I don't think we have the money, so we have to look at what is available in the market."

Asked whether he was still pursuing Craig Beattie, the former Celtic striker struggling to secure a first-team spot at West Bromwich Albion, Laszlo replied: "He is a good striker but already has a contract with another team."

Laszlo acknowledged that he had a lack of strength in depth among his strikers and that a single injury would upset his plans early in the season. The news on when Calum Elliot will return remains cloudy. The 22-year-old faces more treatment on a heel bone injury apparently picked up from training in new boots, and while the Hearts manager is still hopeful of an injection easing the problem – the medics are waiting for swelling to subside before it is given – if he does need an operation, Laszlo said Elliot would face a five-month recovery period.

New Algerian defender Ismael Bouzid is nursing a shoulder injury and winger Andrew Driver will miss both of next week's matches through injury, but still Laszlo was in good heart at Hearts' Riccarton training base yesterday.

But he did voice concern over the growing number of players leaving Scotland for the Coca-Cola Championship, and he urged clubs to shun quick-fixes of foreign buys and develop more native talent.

"This is maybe the time to wake up and do something. If you think of Steven Fletcher gone from Hibs, Robbie Neilson and Berra from us, and think about Rangers, and how many players they have lost to the Championship. It is for us to make the SPL better. We need to think more about where we go with our younger players. We have a lot of talented players in Scotland, but you cannot have 40 players and many do nothing but train.

"Scottish football produces good footballers, so we should not always be about 'buy, buy, buy'; we must look to produce more better footballers, which would help the clubs and the national team."

Taken from the Scotsman

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