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Hearts can count on Pascali to offer empathy

MANUEL PASCALI offers hope that one day those at Hearts will be able to look back on all this and laugh.

Manuel Pascali has endured the worst of football's financial turmoil. Picture: SNS
Manuel Pascali has endured the worst of football's financial turmoil. Picture: SNS

The football has been forced to the sidelines for much of this season at Tynecastle as share issues, transfer embargos and missed deadlines are played out in full view. The Edinburgh side travel to Kilmarnock seeking to strengthen their hold on a place in the top six of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League but it is a game which will act only as a temporary reprieve from talk of funding gaps and £800,000 shortfalls.

It is a situation which draws sympathy for players and staff from those on the outside but seldom any real understanding. Pascali offers the same notes of compassion, yet they are tinged by bitter experience; the Kilmarnock midfielder endured similar problems at his first club, Alessandria. Finances became insecure at the Serie C team and found Pascali playing for free.

It is an episode which resonates with what he sees at Tynecastle, although not all of it fits in the same context – "It was the same year the police had to come in the dressing room because the ultras were going mad with us as we played with a young, young team" – and the baggage that came with it is now stored neatly as an anecdote.

"The last salary I received was in November and I played until June for free," said Pascali. "I had to ask my parents for money; it is not easy because when you are playing football you are not thinking about it but the other 22 hours or so you are. Maybe you see something you want to buy but you have to think because you don't know what is going to happen.

"I had to change house four times because [Alessandria] weren't paying the bills. It was like a Gretna situation. At the end of the season the club disappeared and it was very hard. When I got my next wage I had to settle my debts with my family and at the restaurant where we would go for lunch or dinner. It is not your fault and I know what they are going through at Hearts. I know they are going to sort it out sooner or later."

He added archly that he would prefer they waited until after they leave Rugby Park this afternoon. A win for Kilmarnock would lift them above their visitors in the table but it has been a season punctuated by inconsistency, with the Ayrshire side having won just once in their past five league games.

It has been a source of frustration for Pascali but not enough to cause him to tailor his ambition. "This is my fifth year here and I want to do something we have never achieved and that I have never achieved in my career," he said. "I am talking about Europe. Without Rangers in the league and with every team quite level there is a great chance to do well. I hope that we can become more consistent unlike past years with the winning and losing and winning and losing.

"We have the chance to do better than last season but it depends on us. You see that Inverness the last time they played us were level on points with us and are now second, so you need a good run if you are going to do something positive."

Hearts will be in a similar mood, of course, but there are times when an away match is a long way from home. Dylan McGowan, the 21-year-old Australian, may reflect on that truism when he steps out on to Rugby Park today.

He and brother Ryan will at least be bolstered by a Christmas dinner cooked by mum who has joined her sons for Christmas. "That's a little bit of home," he said, looking out on to a bleak Tynecastle. "The weather is not great but we didn't come here for the weather. When you play on a day when Tynecastle is packed and the place is bouncing, that's what we came here to do. Even at this time of year."

It is McGowan's fifth season in Scotland, some of it spent on loan to East Fife, but feels he has now become part of the Hearts family. He was powerful and influential in the 2-1 defeat of Dundee United on Sunday and is prepared for a testing challenge. "Kilmarnock have been good this season but I think we're a match for anyone. If we turn up in the right frame of mind, I'm sure we can get the three points."

There has been some talk of a family break-up with speculation over Ryan's future at Tynecastle but his brother said: "I hope he stays. But it's up to him, he's in a different situation to me – I've just broken into the team, whereas he's been here for a long time now."

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