Hearts F.C Jan 2019 – Less Is More…

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When I was asked to produce this piece looking into what my club will look to achieve this upcoming transfer window, I jumped at the chance. Finally, I had an excuse to prize myself away from endless debates over fan conduct and having to explain why Ann Budge never being seen in her Ellesse tracksuit outside Luckies bar with 20 Marlboro and white lightning while singing certain songs (that don’t need to be mentioned) does not make her “the enemy” to a vocal minority of our support. That sense of relief, however, soon disappeared under an avalanche of research into previous January windows which was throwing up names such as Rais M’Bohli, Ludek Straceny & Mirsad “The Bosnian Bullet” Beslija. Names long forgotten and tossed into a football equivalent of Room 101, but ones which give weight to a very mixed bag of signings during the past 13 years for the club.

There have been some exceptions to the rule of thumb that our January signings have been mostly ineffectual with notable contributions coming in short-term form (Lee Miller) to more long-term (Ryan Stevenson, Bruno Aguiar, John Souttar) mainstays at the club but in truth this transfer window is more of an opportunity to take stock and look ahead to the following season to see which pre-contracts can be snapped up especially given the revolving door policy that has dominated our transfer windows since Anne Budge & Craig Levein took the reins in 2014.

Pre-contract signings in a time when managers come and go with great ease, do bring along their own risk but given that the club is still very much behind the Liverpool boot room strategy of promoting our future managers from within should mean that we can plan and strategize for the following season without fear of looking too far ahead. The three main positions that we should and will probably be looking at next month are the left back, centre back and right midfield berths. That may sound incredibly harsh in particular on Callum Morrison who has provided pace, width and impetuous in a few matches but historically Craig Levein has always liked to have wide men who can double up as an extra man in the middle of the park due to the lack of width that Tynecastle provides and there is still a lot in terms of positional discipline that Morrison is still to learn . Examples of this tactic come from both of Levein’s spells at the club in a managerial capacity with Steven Boyack, Phil Stamp, Don Cowie & Prince Buaben all filling in on the right.

The easy answer to this question would be to tie up Chris Cadden on a pre-contract or early January deal although the question regarding the level of compensation could potentially scupper this deal.

After years of being spoilt for a genuine quality left back stretching back to Tosh Mckinlay in the late ’80s to Lee Wallace in the last decade, we have struggled to fill this spot on a regular basis with only Danny Grainger and Adam Eckersley offering a short-term solution to our problem.

Neither Ben Garuccio or Demi Mitchell have offered enough reassurance that this problem has finally been solved so I would like to see the club make attempts to bring in a proven performer from the premiership. It is a shame that Greg Taylor signed a new deal at Killie earlier this year so our best bet may be to plug the gap short term with the return of Lee “Pistol” Wallace if fitness and match sharpness could be proven. Bobby Burns will also return to the club with the benefit of a loan spell at Livingston behind him.

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Given we have 5 centre-backs on the books (6 if you count Peter Haring) it would appear that there is no requirement for further reinforcements. When you break down the list though it is clear we could be needing a fresh face come the summer. Berra is the only of the five that you could guarantee will be in a maroon jersey next season with Clevid Diakamona showing all the inconsistent hallmarks of a journeyman centre-half, Aaron Hughes giving us a hilarious retirement statement against Livingston, Jimmy Dunne on a loan deal and John Souttar courting interest from down south. At the moment the ideal scenario would see Dunne stay on albeit on another loan deal but that is a long shot at the moment.

Given the recent slump in form and alarming increase in players drowning in maroon jerseys if Berra & Naismith are not on the park, the temptation to go for another knee-jerk scattergun approach to signing players may appeal to some but history shows that the manager generally gets a reaction from his team after a slump in form or one-off embarrassing defeat. For example. in 2002 we went on to lose 2 matches in 16 (both against the old firm) after a midweek 6-1 lost at Fir Park so a bit of perspective and patience is required at this time.

In terms of outgoings next month, Anthony Mcdonald & Harry Cochrane would be the two prime candidates for shipping out on loan deals. Both have shown their long-term value to the club, but Cochrane, in particular, has fatigue and conditioning issues that need to be tackled and a consistent run in a team with less of a spotlight on them could very well benefit him and the club.

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