JOSE Goncalves admits he is delighted FC Zurich’s Europa League clash with Hearts will give him the chance to return ‘home’.
The former Hearts defender is now the Swiss champions’ team manager – a role that involves supporting the first team behind the scenes.
And despite being at Tynecastle during Vladimir Romanov’s controversial ownership of the club, Goncalves insists the four years he spent there until 2010 helped shape him as a player and a person.
Before the pandemic, Goncalves even made an annual pre-Christmas trip back to the capital to visit friends, including best mate Frankie Cusack – who used to valet the players’ cars.
The 36-year-old is thrilled to be going up against Hearts in the play-off round – starting in tomorrow’s first leg in St Gallen – but concedes it will be gutting that one team will not progress.
Goncalves, who also played for St Gallen, Sion and New England Revolution before seeing out his career in a player/mentor role with the Zurich Under-21s, said: “When we found out we could play Hearts, I was checking and double checking with the people at the club, it’s like home for me.
“I’m very happy and proud to be returning to Tynecastle.
“I still have friends in Edinburgh and I see them as often as possible and every year since I left just before Christmas I got back to Edinburgh but for the last few years I’ve not been because of the Covid situation.
“I was more than happy, excited that I can say I will be returning home.
“For me Edinburgh is my favourite city.
“When I arrived I was young, 20. And the years I spent there were not only fruitful as a footballer but also as a man.
“I spent many great years at Hearts, we won the Scottish Cup, we were second in the league and I grew up not only as a footballer but also as a man.
“The respect the people gave me, the respect I learned from the Scottish league and opponents – it’s very important to me.
“It’s also how I see life. I’m proud to have learned the way football is in that league and I have nothing bad to say about Hearts or the league.
“I’m very happy we play against them and at the same time it’s a little bit s**t because one of the teams will have to lose but that’s the way it is.”
Goncalves is also looking forward to catching up with Hearts head coach Neilson and goalkeeper Gordon, whom he both played alongside during his time in Scottish football.
He added: “I played with both of them so it will be good to catch up and chat about the olds times and also the new times.
“Robbie is obviously the manager now and Craig looks like he has a few years left.
“It’s always great when you can meet up with old team-mates and discuss the past.
“I’m not surprised Craig is still playing. If you take care of your body and mentally you are happy and have the hunger to play at the highest level then you can play.”
Goncalves, meanwhile, insists he does not regard any team as favourites going into Thursday’s first leg.
Despite winning the title last season, Zurich have made a slow start to the domestic campaign with two points from five games.
He added: “I don’t see any favourites to be honest. We are the champions but you know how it is, now it’s a new season.
“What we did last year we will remember but you move on.
“It’s two games and the better team over the two games will advance to the group stages.
“I don’t really care if we are the favourites or they are because I know how tough the games will be.”