It’s been an eventful two weeks for Hearts, even when putting the managerial issue aside. There has been constant speculation linking, amongst others, the club-captain Christoph Berra with a move to Wolves and deeply unpopular coach Angel Cervenkov has returned to help out with preseason training. For the first two days of pre-season Christian Nade was AWOL and Mauricio Pinilla has refused to sign a contract, which apparently involved a wage cut, and has left the club citing œdiet policemen as one of his reasons.
Quite a few others have left by more conventional means. Neil McCann has left to join Falkirk, Roman Bednar has made his move to West Brom permanent and Ibrahim Tall has moved to newly-promoted Nantes. Jose Goncalves signed a new contract on the same day he completed a loan move to Nuremberg, with an option to make the transfer permanent if the German side decide to pay the pre-arranged fee.
Hearts are obviously trying to cut their wage budget and some of the names mentioned above are, or rather were some of the higher earners. But what is worrying is how increasingly thin the squad looks. Going on the performances of last season there is obviously a lack of talent there so when will Hearts start adding to their squad?
When they appoint a new manager of course.
The most worrying aspect, regarding the squad, is the strikers left at the club. Since Pinilla’s departure Hearts are now left with only Calum Elliot, who has said publicly he wants to leave the club, Christian Nade, not exactly a fans favourite, Jamie Mole, who has not shown too much to impress in the first team opportunities he has been given, and Gary Glen, who was sent back to train with the under-19s recently. The young striker made three and a bit appearances towards the end of last season, scoring twice, has apparently been sent back to train with the under-19s. It would be unfair of the Hearts coaching staff or supporters to expect him to be the saviour next season but he should still find himself in the first team often enough.
Audrius Ksanivicius could also be included amongst the front men. He usually plays just behind the striker but he failed to score more than a single goal last season and I don’t think his assist count was too high either.
Things look slightly better in midfield for Hearts, in numbers anyway. Eggert Jonsson and Andy Driver, central midfielder and left winger respectively, both established themselves in the first team last season and both look exciting prospects but how long will they be there for? Driver has been subject to two bids from Burnley already, with possibly a third in the not-too-distant future.
Other wingers include Lithuanian duo Salius Mikoliunas and Davidas Cesnauskis, who have both shown talent but have been unable to produce it regularly. Mirsad Beslija has returned from his loan in Belgium and will no doubt get his chance in the team should he stay fit.
Kestutis Ivaskevicius and Audrius Ksanavicius, mentioned before, have both played on the wings but are unpopular with most supporters and have been poor in most of the matches they have played.
Former Manchester United youngster Ritchie Jones turned down a move to Tynecastle this week and he would have added to a long list of central midfielders “ Laryea Kingston, Michael Stewart, Bruno Aguiar, Ruben Palazuelos, Fernando Screpis, and also Jonsson mentioned above.
Kingston and Palazuelos are both pretty talented and much will be expected of these two next season, and if Aguiar recovers from his injury, which has kept him out for around a year, he will be welcome return. Michael Stewart, another former Manchester United youngster, frustrated the supporters with his erratic performances and his general attitude at times last season. Again, like so many in the Hearts squad, in the past he has shown talent but he doesn’t produce often enough. On so many occasions last season I wondered why he insisted on taking our set pieces when so many of them hit the first defender or went straight into the hands of the goalkeeper.
Fernando Screpis has only played a few times and it looked like there may be a player in there somewhere. Although he is another who is meeting Romanov, or representatives of, to discuss his contract and he could end up going the same why as Pinilla.
With Jose Goncalves joining Nuremberg on loan, this will give Lee Wallace the chance to make the left back position his own. There were times last season where he had to play back-up to Goncalves just so the Portuguese full back was in the ˜shop window’. This angered the Hearts support at times. The other first team full backs at the club are the ever-present Robbie Nielson, now going into his twelfth season with Hearts, and Jason Thomson, who played a few games towards the end of last season but does not look as though he will really add much to the squad. This is another position where Hearts look extremely thin and the new manager will need to add to.
Central defence looks slightly better. Christos Karapidis and Christophe Berra formed a decent partnership in the second half of last season, while Marius Zaliukas is adequate back up. Zaliukas looked a solid defender for Hearts, not last season but the season before, but struggled last season. Twenty-year-old Ryan McGowan, who can also play in midfield, will be one of the youngsters who could break through. He came on for the injured Zaliukas in Hearts’ final match of the season and will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Driver and Jonsson and establish himself as a first team regular.
That just leaves the goalkeepers. Steve Banks was one of Hearts’ better performers last season but he is 36 now and lacks a bit of height. I would prefer if Banks played reserve to a new goalkeeper but will not be too disappointed if Banks remains no.1 for another year.
Anthony Basso has been frozen out after failing to agree a new contract but this will not worry the Hearts support too much as he looks prone to making more mistakes than your average Hibs goalkeeper. He did put in one incredible performance against Celtic in the league cup but has cancelled that out with bad mistakes in other matches.
Hearts also have some youngsters that could make their mark next season. Gary Glen and Ryan McGowan made a few appearances last season and players such as Stephen Husband and Matej Rapnik were on the verge of doing so. But the new manager will also need to bring in a goalkeeper; one, maybe two, full backs; a central defender; and one or two strikers, if not more.
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