Former Hearts midfielder Colin Cameron has paid a touching tribute to Stefano Salvatori, and recalled how his first encounter with the popular Italian left him with a bloodied face.
Cameron was shocked to hear the news that 1998 Scottish Cup winning team-mate Salvatori had passed away at the age of 49 following an illness.
Salvatori was signed by then Hearts manager Jim Jefferies from Atalanta in 1996 as a ball-winning midfielder after being part of the AC Milan squad that won the 1990 European Cup – and having also played for the likes of Fiorentina.
Cameron said: “He was a fantastic player and his attitude was second to none, he came in and worked hard every single day. He was a fully committed player.
“In the first training session we had, he burst my eye open. We were training around at Murrayfield and we both went for the ball, I went for it with my head and he went for it with his studs, and he caught me on the eye.
“I had to walk all the way back to Tynecastle from Murrayfield with blood pouring out my head.
“Jim and Billy (Brown, assistant manager) were peeing themselves laughing and I was going mental.
“His English at the time wasn’t fantastic so it was difficult for him to apologise.
“I was angry at the time but you look back and have a laugh and a joke. Whenever I see Jim, we talk about that occasion and he think’s it’s hilarious.
“The way he sees it is, ‘that’s why I brought him in, to do that type of job’.”
Cameron insists it was Salvatori’s whole-hearted approach to games, allied to the 2-1 Scottish Cup final triumph over Rangers, that cemented his place as a legend among the club’s supporters.
Salvatori went on to make a total of 73 appearances in three years for the Gorgie outfit before returning to his homeland to sign for Virtus Bergamo Alzano Seriate in 1999.
Cameron added: “To have him in there alongside me, it was great because he did the dirty work and positionally he was very good. Anything that came past me, inevitably he was there.
“He used his experience and he was great have in the team.
“It’s easy to see how the fans loved him. Any fans who are paying there money to come and see their team play, if they see a player giving 110 per cent then they’ll be right behind that player and Stefano was one of those guys.
“Every time he crossed that white line, he was 110 per cent committed to the cause and that’s what endeared him to everybody, the players as well.”
Cameron added: “It’s so sad, I saw him maybe about two or three years ago and he was a picture of health.
“He looked like he could still play. I was really shocked and saddened to hear about his passing.
“My sympathies go out to his friends and family.”
Another of Salvatori’s former team-mates, Gary Mackay, Hearts’ all-time record appearance holder, said: “He was a lovely guy, he had time for everyone and was so down to earth.
“He brought a professionalism to the changing room that was to be admired.
“From a supporters’ point of view, to think that someone of the cup winning team of nearly 20 years ago is no longer with us is really sad.”
A Hearts statement read: “Heart of Midlothian Football Club is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former player Stefano Salvatori.
“The Italian midfielder joined Hearts in 1996 and spent three years at Tynecastle, winning the hearts of supporters with commanding displays in the middle of the park.
“He wrote his name into Hearts folklore by helping the Jambos to lift the 1998 Scottish Cup with a 2-1 win over Rangers, and in the process earning himself legendary status in Gorgie.
“The club would like to pass on its condolences to the family and friends of Stefano.”