BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
ISMA GONCALVES insists he learned the hard way that money cannot buy you happiness after revealing that he turned down a lucrative move to Azerbaijan in favour of finding contentment, on and off the pitch, with Hearts.
Goncalves endured a miserable stint in Saudi Arabia with Ettifaq FC in 2015 which, although profitable, proved utterly unfulfilling for the Portuguese forward.
He played just two games in the Middle-East before re-igniting his career at Anorthosis Famagusta.
The 25-year-old was not going to make the same mistake in January when he was presented with a choice of returning to Scotland or bolstering his bank balance in Baku.
Goncalves’ decision was partly motivated by football, but also indicative his new priorities as a family man. The enfant terrible who first arrived on these shores with St Mirren in 2013 is long gone, replaced by a father of two – Isma Jr and Santiago – and fiance to Lucia.
“When I got the phone call to come here, I had other opportunities to go to other countries for money,” recalled Goncalves. “But this was a clear choice for me. There are things more important than money and I know that now.
“I could have gone to Azerbaijan and places like that. But I have made decisions based on money before – I went to Saudi Arabia two years ago – and it was not going to do that again. I am more mature and think about other things, and Hearts was the right move for all the important reasons.
“I need to look after my family and I cannot make choices without thinking about them. What really matters is that we have a good and healthy life together.
“I go to the restaurant with my fiancée and my baby, but I don’t go out partying any more! I think I am more serious and mature.”
It is impossible to underestimate the importance of Austin MacPhee, Hearts’ assistant head coach, in that evolution.
MacPhee was on Danny Lennon’s coaching staff at St Mirren when the Portuguese arrived on loan from Rio Ave – where Ian Cathro was assistant manager – four years ago and bent over backwards to make him welcome.
It has been well documented that the charismatic coach took Goncalves along to his parents’ silver wedding anniversary party in order to keep him out of trouble the night before their League Cup semi-final against Celtic.
However, the striker insists their relationship went far beyond that – and he now feels like part of MacPhee’s family.
“I arrived in Glasgow alone, young,” continued Goncalves. “I had been taken out of the team in Portugal because of some problems and Austin knew these things about me. He told me ‘you are going to play, but you must be serious’. I liked the way he dealt with me.
“I do remember that party, I was there until around 11 o’clock at a restaurant in Glasgow. Everyone was so welcoming, it was amazing.
“After that, Austin’s mother [Nora], a very lovely woman, made me an album with all my interviews and photos from my time at St Mirren.
“Even when I was abroad, I used to speak to Austin all the time. We would speak about life, about football and our sons. He was a friend.
“It was a happy surprise when he said he was joining up with Ian [Cathro] and they could bring me in.”
Contrary to suggestions that there is a lack of togetherness stemming from an influx of nine new signings in January, Goncalves also offered an insight into Hearts’ team bonding sessions ahead of tonight’s trip to face Kilmarnock.
“We play a small league in training once a week, and the players who lose have to pay for lunch. It helps the spirit in the team,” he smiled. “I paid for dinner the last time!
“With so many new players, everybody has been trying to get to know each other and we are joking together. It’s difficult when we lose games, but I think this can make us stronger together. At the moment, we are a team. I don’t just mean on the football pitch – I mean off the pitch as well.”