London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Page <-Team Sat 29 Nov 2008 Hearts 2 Rangers 1 Team-> Page->
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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Brian Marjoribanks auth-> Douglas McDonald
Wallace Lee [Kingston Laryea og 26]
11 of 064 Marius Zaliukas 20 ;Laryea Kingston 23 L SPL H

Velicka's vanishing has more to do with burn-out than any failure at Ibrox

Brian Marjoribanks

A tried and trusted Scottish Premier League predator with Hearts, Andrius Velicka’s knack of scoring against Celtic helped him catch the eye of Rangers manager Walter Smith.

But the lesser-spotted Lithuanian has gone from high-profile signing to forgotten man in the space of four short months since his surprise £1million unveiling at Ibrox in the summer, following a brief spell in Norway with Viking Stavanger.

The 29-year-old made his Rangers bow from the substitutes’ bench in both legs of the embarrassing Champions League qualifying stage elimination at the hands of his former club, FBK Kaunas, missing a fine chance to salvage the club’s European dream in the disastrous return leg in Lithuania.

Velicka’s first full match for the Ibrox club, however, saw him score the winner away to Falkirk in August and the future looked bright.

Mysteriously, though, his only other start, or indeed appearance, for Rangers came the following week against his old club Hearts.

Almost overnight, and despite the departure of target man Daniel Cousin, the burly 29-year-old slipped right down the lengthy pecking order behind strikers Kris Boyd, Kenny Miller, Kyle Lafferty, Jean-Claude Darcheville and Nacho Novo.

Of late, he has been restricted to a handful of reserve outings and was last spotted being substituted midway through the second half of Lithuania’s World Cup Group Seven qualifier last month, a 1-0 win over the Faroe Islands.

Just last week, the player was quoted in the Rangers News insisting he will bide his time as he attempts to win back his first-team place at Ibrox.

So far, so mysterious. But, ahead of Rangers’ trip to face his old club Hearts at Tynecastle tomorrow, Sportsmail has learned of claims that Velicka’s absence has, in fact, been down to burn-out.

According to high-up sources in his homeland, the player is said to be suffering the effects of exhaustion, the result of almost two solid years of non-stop football.

Concerned about the player’s condition, top figures within the Lithuanian FA sought talks with Rangers to clarify Velicka’s situation and received satisfactory answers.

Now the powerful striker is expected to kick-start his Ibrox career around the turn of the year, when he returns to aid the club’s tilt at stopping Celtic’s endeavours to win four titles in a row.

‘We actually spoke with Rangers to discuss the matter of Andrius Velicka,’

FA president Liutauras Varanavicius told Sportsmail. ‘We know that there is an understanding at Rangers that Andrius needs rest and he will not start back for the first team until around the New Year.

‘After his move from Hearts to Norway, it meant he had been playing football for 20 months — for Kaunas, Hearts, Viking Stavanger and also the Lithuanian national team — without having a proper break. No footballer would be able to handle that kind of schedule.’

Velicka initially signed for Rangers in June but, as part of the deal, it was agreed that he would return to Norway to play another three matches before joining his new team-mates the following month.

Despite his slow start at the Glasgow giants, Varanavicius insists his player is loving life at Rangers under Smith.

‘Andrius is happy at how he is being treated by Rangers,’ he said. ‘He is liking the club very much and he says he has good relationships with his team-mates, the manager and the coaching staff.

‘He is enjoying it at Rangers and is looking forward to getting back into the team. In my opinion, there are good working relationships there.

‘I last saw Andrius play against the Faroes last month for Lithuania. He looked OK but was still in need of a rest. He is also in need of practice because he has missed so many games and is not match-sharp. But he will be back soon and we are delighted because we want him for Lithuania’s important World Cup qualifier against France in March.’

Velicka finished top scorer for Hearts with 14 goals last season, despite leaving for Norway in February. How the Tynecastle throng must currently yearn for a striker of similar potency.

Under Csaba Laszlo, Hearts are riding high in the league, sitting third from top, but underlying that lofty position is the stark statistic that their top-scoring striker is two-goal Christian Nade, while midfielders Bruno Aguiar and Michael Stewart, the club’s designated penalty taker, lead the way with three apiece.

Hearts are down to the bare bones following training-ground injuries this week to Jamie Mole and Mike Tullberg, as they look to build on four consecutive SPL victories for the first time since George Burley’s reign three years ago.

And, ahead of tomorrow’s showdown, Varanavicius, a senior official of Vladimir Romanov’s Ukio Bankas and a former Hearts director, believes the success at Tynecastle this term is built upon a strong relationship between manager and owner.

‘The relationship between the coach and the owner is a good relationship and cannot be underestimated,’ he said.

‘I cannot claim to know Csaba very well, but I saw him and Mr Romanov together

recently and they look relaxed in each other’s company. They get on very well and there seems to be a nice continuity at Hearts these days.’

For Velicka, however, the time for relaxation is almost over as he looks forward to forging his own relationship with his team-mates in the Rangers first team.
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