FORMER HEARTS hero Bruno Aguiar has lauded Robbie Neilson and Craig Gordon for turning a ‘complicated’ league of nations into Scottish Cup winners.
And the Portuguese maestro is adamant they are the perfect duo to restore the feel-good factor in Gorgie following their stunning Tynecastle reunion.
The pair were pivotal in that 2006 Hampden triumph over Gretna, with Neilson making a legendary last-gasp tackle to deny David Graham a certain goal and Gordon saving a Derek Townsley effort in the penalty shoot-out following a breathless 1-1 draw.
However, Aguiar reckons their influence in the dressing room, along with the likes of Paul Hartley and Steven Pressley, was even more invaluable during an often tumultuous – if thrilling – period under Vladimir Romanov.
He lauded: “Robbie and Craig are two people with great character and really strong personalities. That will be very important in a challenging time for the club.
“Although they were popular with everyone, they were serious when the situation called for it and were part of that core of Scots in our team.
“Even in the face of a complicated situation – seeing so many players from other nationalities arriving – they always helped us to get in the best mood and made us feel what the club was. They are real Hearts men and tried to bring us together.
“They were a big part of the reason why we were able to enjoy success and why I have such great memories.
“Despite the serious injuries I suffered, I spent the best moments of my career at Hearts and I miss the club a lot.
“I really do wish the club, Robbie and Craig all the success and I’m sure success is ahead.”
Now 14 years on, their roles may have changed, with Neilson now the club’s head coach.
The challenge is also a very different one – to escape the Championship, providing their contentious demotion from the Premiership is not overturned.
But Aguiar is adamant their inspirational influence will be just the same.
He added: “Unfortunately, the club’s fate was decided in a strange way, but the club has reacted to this and seen that Robbie is a good coach for the situation.
“He knows the Championship, knows the club and is the right man to bring Hearts back to the top division.
“However, Robbie knows that you need to be able to count on the experience and influence of an experienced number one goalkeeper – and there is no-one better.”
Gordon is hopeful that his emotional homecoming can also open the door to a Scotland return.
At 37 years of age, Gordon still harbours aspirations to add to his 54 caps and help Steve Clarke guide the country to next summer’s re-arranged European Championships.
And Aguiar fully expects the former Celtic stopper to give Clarke a headache.
He added: “I don’t know what happened with Craig and Celtic. Maybe because of age, the club has chosen not to extend the relationship. But that has worked out well for Hearts!
“I think it is a lot for the club to have a player with his experience and the knowledge
“And in terms of Scotland, the manager will have a big decision. Of course, it is the coach’s opinion and you must respect all the competitors for the place.
“However, with his quality and amount of international matches under his belt, it is a good choice to have for the manager at an important time for the national team.”