Hearts lead tributes to former player Marius Zaliukas following his death
Hearts dedicated their William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final win over Hibernian to former cup-winning skipper Marius Zaliukas following his death at the age of 36.
The former Lithuania defender captained Hearts to Scottish Cup final glory against Hibernian in 2012 during a seven-year spell at Tynecastle and later played for Leeds and Rangers.
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson said Zaliukas had been suffering from motor neurone disease.
The news was announced by the Lithuanian Football Federation during Hearts’ Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibs.
The LFF said in a statement: “Marius inspired countless young footballers, and his contribution to Lithuanian football will never be forgotten.
“On behalf of the Lithuanian football community, we express our deepest condolences to Marius’ family.”
Immediately after beating Hibs 2-1 at Hampden, Hearts dedicated their victory to Zaliukas.
A brief statement on Twitter read: “Everyone at Heart of Midlothian Football Club is devastated to learn of the passing of Scottish Cup winning captain Marius Zaliukas.
“A full tribute will follow, but for now we send our love to Marius’ family and friends.
“That win was for you, skipper.”
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson, a former team-mate of Zaliukas, said: “I found out about a minute before the players went out but we didn’t speak to the players about it, but they know now.
“I knew Marius personally for a number of years and it is devastating for everyone at the club because he was a big part of the club, a huge part of the history. The captain of the 5-1 game against Hibs here.
“So hopefully there is a slight bit of comfort to the family to say that this game is for him as well because he has had a difficult period recently with his motor neurone disease and we are all thinking of his family at this moment.”
Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon added: “He was a fantastic team-mate, I played with him on quite a few occasions, he was such a great defender, a player who had been captain here as well and he was a real leader, so it is very sad news.
“Hopefully this result today can pay respects to him because he was a fantastic player, and when Hearts won the cup last time he was here, so it is a sad day.
“But I’m pleased we got out there and got a result and I’m sure he would be very proud.”
The former Kaunas defender joined Hearts in 2006 and made more than 200 appearances for the club, with the high point that 5-1 Hampden victory over Hibs in 2012.
He made 16 appearances for Leeds in the 2013-14 season and played 30 times for Rangers in the following campaign before ending his career with Zalgiris in his homeland in 2016. He won 25 caps for Lithuania.
His wife, Nora, gave birth to their first child, also called Marius, in March this year.
Leeds wrote on their official Twitter account: “The thoughts of everyone at #LUFC are with the friends and family of former defender Marius Zaliukas who has sadly passed away at 36.”
Rangers said they were “shocked and saddened” by the news.
A statement added: “The thoughts of the directors, management and players of Rangers are with Marius’ family at this sad and difficult time.”
Former team-mates joined in with the tributes.
Ex-Hearts defender Ryan McGowan said: “RIP Skipper….some things bigger than Football! Gone too soon.”
Another of the 2012 Hampden heroes, Danny Grainger, write: “Cannot believe the news I’m hearing about big Zal. RIP skipper.”
Rudi Skacel simply wrote: “RIP skipper. It was pleasure ZAL.”
Former Hearts media officer Lawrence Broadie described Zaliukas as a “guy who was full of fun”.
“We all remember the amazing images as Marius went up to collect the Scottish Cup,” he wrote.
“He was in a dream that five years before seemed unimaginable. The joy, the awe, the twinkling eyes.”
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