Bruno at home on the grand stage

David McKinney meets the Hearts hard man with a growing reputation
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The Independent Online
Should any of the Heart of Midlothian players feel the burden of 36 trophy-less years as they face up to Aberdeen in the semi-finals of the Tennents Scottish Cup tomorrow, they need only look for inspiration towards the swarthy figure of Pasquale Bruno.

The Italian, who will be hoping to produce a better result that his boxing namesake by landing the knock-out blow to Aberdeen's hopes of a domestic cup double, will be taking a football leap of huge proportions when he steps out at the Hampden Park in front of 38,000 spectators.

Five semi-final defeats for Hearts will not play on the mind of a man who has experienced the ultimate in football: San Siro stadium with 80,000 screaming passionate fans. Bruno was a member of the Juventus side which won the Italian Cup final in that cathedral of world football with a 1- 0 win, following a 0-0 draw in the first leg. After that, the prospect of Aberdeen and either Rangers or Celtic in the final is not one which keeps him awake at night.

"Anything can happen in cup finals, I know, because Milan were the best- known team in the world in 1990 with Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard. Yet we beat them in the best stadium in the world. Hearts against Aberdeen is to me like Torino against Roma, Rangers against Celtic is like Juventus against Milan. People fear Rangers and Celtic here because they are great clubs - but I know what can happen in a cup final."

The defender, who made his living in the toughest football school in the world, is breathing fresher air in Scotland than he was allowed in the claustrophobic environment of the Italian circus.

"You can become crazy there," Bruno added. "The pressure is non-stop, the media are everywhere. If you change hair colour it's reported, if you change your car they write about it. The pressure can burst your brain. Milan, who have won everything, had their team bus stoned by the fans when they went out of the Uefa Cup. Can you imagine that, after all they have done? In Scotland, I can take my daughter to matches, I can relax and enjoy myself.

"The football in Italy is better because they have better players, but here in Scotland everyone is just as passionate and the atmosphere is made by the stands, which are closer to the pitch. The people only want you to win, they won't tolerate anything else.

"I envy you Hampden and the English Wembley, because there is no national stadium in Italy, no neutral venue, and I think you need that for cup finals."

Despite advancing years (he is 33) Bruno has found that anticipation compensates for a loss of pace. At the heart of the defence, he has become a cult figure along his club's supporters - while others are quick to point to a fiery temper which saw him sent off against Aberdeen in February.

"There's always an element of a gamble with new players," said Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager, who was responsible for bringing Bruno to Scotland. "There was no transfer fee involved and at the time we were bottom of the league. We are now fourth and in a cup semi-final, so it was a good deal for Hearts. He has brought a coolness to the defence and to what was a tense situation. He has composure and confidence with an exceptional positional sense.

"You don't play 98 times for Juventus and 103 times for Torino without being a good player. He's a real athlete who is showing the kids here how to look after themselves."

Jefferies, and every Hearts supporter, will be more than happy if Bruno can look after the young and the not-so-young players around him on the Hampden turf tomorrow afternoon.