“Prior to him going to Hearts, Manchester United watched him on seven or eight occasions and they were very close to signing him. I think that shows the level of player he can be. On his day I think there’s no better center back in Scotland than Marius. When he’s fully focused and determined he is a terrific player. He’s proved over the course of his time at Hearts that he’s been an excellent player and a very good captain.”
(Hearts Manager Stephen Pressley talking about Marius Zaliukas)
As I write this Marius Zaliukas is making his first appearance for the Leeds United Development Squad, a step that could lead to a permanent contract if Brian McDermott likes what he sees. With the deployment of a 3-5-2 formation against Birmingham at the weekend, McDermott showed that he’s not scared of putting 3 central defenders on the pitch at once. The only problem with that? Pearce, Lees and Wooton are the only 3 recognized central defenders at the club, and so we will need reinforcements in that area if it’s going to be a regular thing. Could Zaliukas – a free agent, and so available to sign for us permanently – be the answer? Right in the Gary Kelly’s caught up with lifelong Hearts fan Alan Spence to get the lowdown on the man who spent 7 eventful years at his club…
Hi Alan, and thanks for agreeing to give us the lowdown on Marius Zaliukas. Leeds United currently have him on trial – in fact he’s playing for our Development Squad today after the club obtained international clearance. Firstly, and most importantly, how do we pronounce that surname?
Well given his number of red cards (I think there were 4 in the 2009 season) I think it is pronounced ‘mad dog’ or zallyookus.
He seems to have had a somewhat colorful past - sending’s off for punching opponents and claiming victimization from referees I see! Fair to say he has a bit of a temper then?
He can be a touch rash yes – he does sometimes act first and thinks later but hey, he’s a centre half. Hearts actually considered sending him to anger management classes in the 2009 season! All joking aside though, it can be costly. The 2007/2008 season he missed 13 games through suspension.
We all know though that with power comes great responsibility. Did making him the captain of Hearts help calm him down?
He definitely calmed down after being made captain – not sure how many red cards after that but definitely less!
What kind of defender is he? Old school “stick it in row z”, or a ball playing centre half?
Tricky question actually – to be honest he can be a bit of both. He can also play as a holding midfielder but best position is centre half.
Similar to another ex Hearts and ex Leeds player, Paddy Kisnorbo then…
I think he is a much better player than Kisnorbo and he did ok at Leeds I think ?
Will he contribute many goals from the back? One of our current central defenders, Jason Pearce, has an uncanny knack of hitting everything but the back of the net when he goes up for set pieces…
He gets about 2 a season – he would get more if not suspended so much!
Do you feel the Championship is about the right level for him? QPR seemed interested before he turned up at Elland Road…
I honestly feel he will do well at that level. He is 29 now I think and has a lot of experience. He has a lot of international experience with Lithuania and European experience with Hearts.
The only negative site to the game can be his temperament as per all the past red cards but I think he has mellowed a lot over the years. I wouldn’t use him as a role model for the youth team but I think he will do fine. Put it this way, I would be happy if he was still at Hearts!
“From punching Carl Finnigan in the face to lifting the Scottish Cup, it has been seven eventful years for Marius Zaliukas in Edinburgh. He now wants to bid farewell properly before his contract expires by playing in Hearts’ last SPL match of the season against Aberdeen at Pittodrie.”
(The Scotsman newspaper)
So there you have it. By all accounts Zaliukas could offer us real quality at the back, providing his disciplinary issues are behind him. He sounds like someone who won’t shirk a tackle, and I can already picture him putting an opposition striker in the crowd, and then getting up and giving the Kop the Leeds salute. Is he worth a punt? With no transfer fee involved, and taking into the account everything that’s been said above, you would think so. He might not be the striker or the winger we were hoping for, but if we’re going to play 3-5-2 with any regularity, his signing might prove just as important.
Reporter- Ian Wylie