Marius Zaliukas dreams of returning to Hearts in 15 years time as a club legend
It was August 2006 and the central defender was about to become the latest of Vladimir Romanov's various loan signings from FBK Kaunas. As he recalls, it wasn't so much an offer as an order.
"I remember getting a phone call at 9am before training and it was Vlad," the Hearts captain recalled. "He said to me: 'Get ready, you're going to Scotland this afternoon'. To be honest, I didn't think I'd still be here after six years. Every transfer window I saw Lithuanians leaving and Lithuanians coming and I thought maybe I would be going, but I'm still here. I am a Jambo for life now. It's a special club and it is now in my heart."
Not only is Zaliukas still here, he now has the chance to claim a place in posterity as the victorious captain of the first all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final since 1896. Only last month he ventured on to the internet to refresh his memories of the scenes of triumph he had witnessed in the summer of 2006 following the penalty shoot-out victory against Gretna, and he is already bracing himself for a tidal wave of emotion on the day.
"I remember watching the videos of Hearts winning the cup on the internet six years ago and again last month after the semi-final against Celtic, I went on and watched them again and saw all the former players celebrating," the Lithuanian said. "The cup was at Tynecastle, being paraded all through the streets of Edinburgh and it was amazing to watch. All of my body got goosebumps when I watched that video. If we do win it, then I'm probably going to cry."
Whether Mr Romanov betrays his emotions or not, he too will alight in the south side of Glasgow this afternoon, where he is expected to stage one of his impromptu dressing room pep talks pre-match, much as he did prior to the Celtic semi-final. At the end of a season during which players have regularly been paid late, not to mention the peremptory dismissal of Jim Jefferies, Zaliukas feels a Hearts victory could inspire the owner about what can still be achieved at the club.
"I spoke to Vlad a week ago on the phone and he is coming over [for the final]," said the 28-year-old, who still has one year remaining on his contract. "He is going to come to the dressing room and speak to us before the game. He will deliver his message in the dressing room. When he speaks it doesn't give me extra motivation, but for the team it probably does. But everyone wants to be on this pitch and everyone wants to win it anyway. Nobody is thinking about next season yet and futures. Everyone is thinking only about Saturday. But I hope this shows Mr Romanov is still interested in Hearts and hopefully he will be for many years ahead. He saved the club and now we are at this final because of him. Winning an Edinburgh final would be a great way to remind him what a great club Hearts are."
Captaining Hearts to win the first Auld Reekie cup final since 1896 would see Zaliukas revered at the club forever, and he has been well briefed on the subject by his agent, John Colquhoun. "I know all the old Hearts legends," he said. "I spoke to the 1998 cup winning team recently at a function at the club, but I know John Colquhoun best as he is my agent. He finished playing 15 years ago and he's still so excited about this final against Hibs. It would be great if I was invited back to Tynecastle in 15 years' time as the Scottish Cup winner of 2012 – and it will happen. I believe we will do it."