Close-season clickbait; transfer tedium
Having seen their team wrap up the title and secure automatic promotion in a pulsating season, most supporters would be forgiven for dreading the usual end-of-season lull that follows the final game of the season and lingers for a few uneventful weeks. Fortunately, the Tynecastle faithful were served a hearty helping of (comic) relief from such tedium, watching with suitable smugness as the chasing pack scrapped for the remaining crumbs from the Championship table.
Before the season kicked off, many Hearts supporters seemed content with the idea of promotion via the playoffs. Having witnessed the pressure cooker that became of those fixtures, however, those of a more nervous disposition will have been grateful they were spared the excitement.
While much of the pre-playoff debate centred on which evil was lesser — a Hibs promotion or a Rangers promotion — the general narrative of this year’s Championship meant there was always the likelihood of neither happening. In Rangers’ case, the misfortune of another season in the Championship is the very least they deserve for the inexplicable incompetence demonstrated after liquidation, born out of the club’s arrogant sense of entitlement. If Dave King’s comments this past week are anything to go by, the lesson has still to be learned. As for Hibs, the disappointing absence of an Edinburgh derby in next season’s Premiership is a small price to pay to see them flounder in the lower leagues a little longer. Those desperate reverse-charge phone calls to Lithuania must seem like a distant memory for our city subordinates.
With the playoffs settled and the season officially at an end, attention has turned to pre-season and the tirade of transfer speculation this time of year brings. What that inevitably means from a supporter perspective is endless threads and tweets peddling the latest material from the rumour mill, supplemented by a constant stream of click-bait on various news sites. In characteristic fashion, however, Messrs Levein and Neilson have been keeping their cards fairly close to their chests over the past fortnight when asked about specific transfer targets, leaving Hearts supporters with very little more than guesswork. With other Premiership clubs already tying down new signings, the lack of transfer activity at Tynecastle has led some to question just how smoothly this summer’s recruitment drive is progressing.
Supporters are understandably anxious to see the club get its business done nice and early before pre-season preparations get underway, but it is worth noting that last summer’s first signing, Morgaro Gomis, only arrived on 12th June, setting the benchmark for the standard of player Hearts required in order to achieve promotion. The first signing of this pre-season, therefore, will be equally indicative of the quality Neilson needs to add to the squad in order to achieve this season’s objective, which (if interviews with Ann Budge towards the end of last season are anything to go by) is a top six finish. A large part of Hearts’ success last season was down to the current regime’s meticulous attention to detail, most notably in player recruitment: if finding the right quality of player takes that little bit longer, then so be it.
Unlike last season, the nucleus of a strong squad is already in place and the severe need for wholesale changes is no longer there. However, there is still plenty room for improvement. The departures of Brad McKay, Adam Eckersley and Danny Wilson have left us considerably light at the back, so a couple of centre backs and a left back are expected to be high on the shopping list. Despite his relatively young age (and the divided opinion on his ability) Wilson was definitely an experienced influence in last season’s Championship-winning squad and his absence makes the recruitment of Alim Ozturk’s new partner at centre back particularly crucial. Given the club’s focus on players with potential sell-on value, it remains to be seen if that new centre back will be an older head, or if Robbie Neilson can find someone who represents the right blend of age and experience that fits in with his recruitment ethos.
Meanwhile, the injury problems and irregular form suffered by Kevin McHattie last season make the recruitment of another left back a nailed-on certainty. It remains to be seen if an additional right back will also figure highly on the shopping list or if there is sufficient faith in Jordan McGhee and Liam Smith to step up in the event of an injury to Callum Paterson. As a makeshift right back, McGhee certainly did enough in Paterson’s absence at the start of the Championship season to suggest he is capable of deputising, although a player more established in that position may provide Paterson with healthier competition in the Premiership.
At the other end of the pitch, at least two new recruits are expected to fill the gaps left by Genero Zeefuik and James Keatings. Queen of the South’s Gavin Reilly is almost certainly going to be one of those signings, which has provoked questionable disapproval from some quarters. While most have welcomed the recruitment of a young player with significant potential, the more cynical “cyber scouts” on Kickback seem to have their doubts: not because Reilly had underperformed throughout an impressive season at Palmerston (during which he scored 15 times) but because he missed a solitary sitter against Rangers in the playoff quarter-final.
For some, this missed opportunity equates to a fully comprehensive scouting report on Reilly’s ability, and with James Keatings having moved across the city divide after his own relatively successful Championship campaign, there have been questions as to what Reilly will bring to the team that Keatings could not. Whatever that may be, names such as Hartley, Webster and Gomis would suggest Craig Levein is better-placed than the average punter when it comes to identifying lower league players who can make the step up to the top flight — wisdom that will no doubt have been suitably imparted to the head coach.
Although the club has yet to parade any new signings (with Craig Levein maintaining that nothing will be announced until players are officially registered) this Barry Anderson tweet towards the end of last week hinted that a “scarf above head” photo may not be too far away:
We’re now approaching the middle of the week, so fingers crossed we see some progress in that regard over the next couple of days. In the meantime, as the crumbs continue to fall from the Championship winners’ table, I’ll make do with smugly watching Hibs and Rangers scrap to build a Championship-winning side out of…well, discarded pieces of a Championship-winning side.
Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on June 16, 2015.