Heinze means business
Since his delayed arrival at Old Trafford from Paris Saint Germain last year, Argentine left-back Gabriel Heinze has won over United supporters and team-mates with his full-blooded approach and the consistency of his performances.
Unlike so many foreigners artistes who come to these shores, Heinze has taken to the physical side of the English game like a duck to water. But he does admit to being startled by the tempo.
'I am not surprised about the physical demands. What has been a shock is how fast each game is played. You get the ball away from your area and it's back at once.
'English football must be the fastest in the world. The games are always full of emotion, and I think that is what the fans really want to see.'
The much travelled Argentinian has plenty on which to base his comparisons, having enjoyed stints in the top leagues of Portugal, Spain and latterly France, with PSG, who sold him to United last summer for around £6 million.
However, at one point, it looked as if the defender's United career might be stillborn. His decision to play for Argentina at the Athens Olympics - where he helped them win gold - did nothing to endear him to his new employers, who were still waiting on his arrival after the new Premiership season had begun.
'I made a decision with my heart; I was very proud that Marcelo Bielsa chose me to play in the Olympics.'
As with most South Americans, for Heinze the call of the national team is particularly hard to resist. With a German dad and an Italian mother, he could have qualified to play for those two countries, but he says he is Argentinian to the core.
'Ever since I started to play football my first dream was to get into the national team. I like the European way of life but my roots are in Argentina and I feel Argentinian every moment of the day.'
Heinze says he was ready to face the consequences of his decision to go to Greece, however severe they might have been.
'I was aware of the expectation when I arrived in England, after all the things that had been said, but I was very calm because I did what I felt I had to do; represent the shirt of the Argentinian National Team in the Olympic Games. If Manchester [United] had wanted to break my contract I would have accepted that because I would have understood their reasons'.
This is typical Heinze: straight to the point and heart worn on his sleeve. It is just these traits on the pitch in fact, that have earned him such a following at United.
|“||A tough character - the sort of guy who defends the shirt of his team with his life. ”|
|— Crespo on Heinze|
Saturday saw him celebrate his 27th birthday and any good tidings did not extend towards visitors Fulham. United old boy Andy Cole was the latest in a long line of Premiership strikers to experience the bone-crunching tackles Heinze likes to dish out.
His international team-mate Hernan Crespo, who recently faced him in the Champions League playing for AC Milan, describes Heinze as 'a tough character - the sort of guy who defends the shirt of his team with his life.' While at PSG, he was voted the hardest player in France. Heinze chuckles at that backhanded Gallic tribute.
'Ah, yes, it's true, it was a funny situation. No worries for me there though. I know that I play rough but I never set out to hurt anyone. Some people like my way of playing and some other don't - no problem. I think in Manchester, and in Argentina, everyone is happy with the way I am playing.'
Heinze is arguably the first South American to really find his feet at Old Trafford, Veron, Diego Forlan and most recently Kleberson have all failed to cut the mustard. Heinze, though, refutes the notion that South Americans by and large lack the right mentality or style of game for the Premiership, and is more specifically keen to defend compatriot Veron against his detractors.
'I really don't know what to say about that. Sometimes, it works the other way round: players have great performances for their clubs, but struggle when they play for the national team. There could be many reasons.
'I don't think that Veron struggled in Manchester. Maybe he had to perform a different role than the one he had with other teams. But you also need luck on your side, and maybe he didn't have that. At times there were other players in his position who were playing better, at other times he was injured...there are many reasons'.
Heinze has not had to go looking for reasons. He has answered all of the questions thrown at him so far. And his sense of purpose regarding the future remains unblurred.
'I expect to keep on being useful to club and country. It would be great to help Argentina qualify for the next World Cup as soon as possible. As for United, we have to fight for everything. If we don't win any trophies this season, we must at least go as far as possible. That's an obligation.'