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Former Hearts, Leeds and Rangers defender Marius Zaliukas dies, aged 36

Soccer – William Hill Scottish Cup Final – Hibernian v Heart of Midlothian – Hampden Park
(Image credit: Lynne Cameron)

Tributes have been paid to former Hearts, Leeds and Rangers defender Marius Zaliukas, who has died at the age of 36.

Zaliukas captained Hearts to Scottish Cup final glory against Hibernian in 2012 during a seven-year spell at Tynecastle and later had shorter spells at Elland Road and Ibrox.

The news was announced by the Lithuanian Football Federation during Hearts’ Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibs.

The LFF said in a statement: “Marius Zaliukas represented the Lithuanian national team from 2006 to 2016 and managed to score one goal. 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.”

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.

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.”