It is with great sadness that we have to advise of the death of Stefano Salvatori who has passed away at the tragically early age of 49.
A great character in the Hearts team of the late 1990s, Stefano will always be remembered as a key-man in that great side that brought the Scottish Cup back to Tynecastle Park after a period of forty-two years. On that day, he stood tall during Rangers’ late onslaught in the Final and this will never be forgotten by the Hearts supporters in attendance, and those watching on television throughout the world.
Stefano was undoubtedly a competitive and hard working ball-winner, who was an expert at breaking-up the opposition moves and holding possession. Nevertheless, the rugged Italian midfielder was also able to play precision passes and accordingly, he was a vital part of the Hearts engine room. In addition, Stefano added a wealth of experience of football at the highest level.
The former Italian U21 Internationalist was born at Guidonia, which is part of the Metropolitan City of Rome, on 29 December 1967. Stefano played youth football for a local club, Lodigiani Calcio, before moving to the AC Milan academy in 1985. He spent his formative years on loan to lower level clubs and the dynamic Roman midfielder played for Virescit Boccaleone (Bergamo) in Serie C, Parma AC in Serie B and then in 1988-89, AC Fiorentina in Serie A.
The 5’10” midfielder made a big impression in Florence and after returning to his parent club, Stefano enjoyed two splendid years with AC Milan, during which time he was a member of the squad that won the European Cup (now the UEFA Champions League) in 1989-90. Stefano also played in the UEFA Super Cup Final victory over Barcelona in the winter of 1989 and the team that reached the Italian Cup Final in April 1990. He subsequently found it difficult to hold a regular place in the star-studded AC Milan team and as a result, Stefano moved back to Fiorentina in December 1990.
The redoubtable ball-winner subsequently played for SPAL (Ferrara) and Atalanta BC (Bergamo). Stefano assisted Atalanta to promotion to Serie A and played in the 1996 Italian Cup Final, but unfortunately, his new club went down to one of his old sides, Fiorentina. The following summer, Stefano was lured to Edinburgh, eventually signing for Heart of Midlothian on 4 September 1996.
His midfield bite became a feature of the Hearts team, but regretfully the rock-solid Italian missed the League Cup Final in November 1996, due to a hernia operation. However, Stefano came back strongly and was outstanding in Hearts’ fine Premier League campaign of 1997-98 when the team finished third. In addition, he had a magnificent game in that memorable Scottish Cup Final victory over Rangers at Celtic Park on 16 May 1998.
The following season, in his holding role, Stefano played in the European Cup Winners Cup against Lantana and Real Mallorca. He also helped Hearts to reach the League Cup Semi-Final against St.Johnstone, but a groin injury affected his game and Stefano was sidelined for a spell. He was not able to regain his automatic place in the team and, at the age of 31, Stefano went home to Italy in September 1999 to play for Alzano Virescit, UC Albino-Leffe and AC Legnano. The resolute midfield man had scored one goal in 73 competitive appearances for Hearts and two goals in his full total of 83 games.
Stefano subsequently forged a career as a coach and technical director with AC Legnano and AC Voghera and he obtained accreditation from UEFA, and both the Italian and Australian Associations. Stefano also worked as a player recruitment agent from 2007-12, before emigrating to Australia, where since December 2013, he worked in football academies and schools’ of excellence, mainly in Brisbane and Sydney.
Stefano had so much more to give to football and his death is a great shock. Our sincere condolences are extended to his family and friends.
By David Speed - Club Historian