The Curious Case of Kenny Anderson
After Robbie Neilson’s announcement earlier in the week that the League Cup game against Forfar would be an opportunity to give some of the squad’s fringe players a run out, the absence of one particular player came as a bit of a surprise. Having missed out on the opening run of competitive games, many would have expected Tuesday night to be Kenny Anderson’s chance to stake his claim for a regular first team place.
However, with no news of an injury and youngster Sean McKirdy picked ahead of him for the Forfar trip, the signs appeared ominous for the Dutchman. It came as less of a surprise, therefore, when the news emerged yesterday morning that Anderson is now free to leave Hearts if he can find new employers before the transfer window closes.
It’s a practice that has become commonplace with the new Tynecastle hierarchy; players with limited first team opportunities being given the option of a move elsewhere for regular football. When the aim is to challenge at the top of the league every season, sense trumps sentiment and this was made abundantly clear when a number of fan favourites from the Championship-winning squad were allowed to leave for little to nothing over pre-season. It’s a decision that has since been fully vindicated, given the strong start to the Premiership campaign, and while those individuals served us well last season, few of them will be missed in the season ahead.
Assuming he does leave before Tuesday, it is highly likely that Anderson will fall into the same category, although what is more peculiar about his situation (compared to other former players) is how little first team exposure he has actually had since arriving in Edinburgh. Injuries played their part last season, restricting him to a mere nine appearances (five of which were from the bench) but many — myself included — believed Anderson’s time would come in a Premiership squad that would rely heavily on depth as the season wore on. Having brought the midfielder in on an 18-month contract during last season’s January transfer window, the head coach’s comments certainly carried an implication that this was a signing with great potential:
“I’m delighted to get Kenny on board. He’s a quality player, one who I believe will slot right into our side. I’m looking forward to working with him and I feel we will get the best out of him.”
Unfortunately, recent developments suggest Neilson has lost that belief.
“Kenny has found it difficult because of the quality we have in those midfield areas. McKirdy has come in and he’s developing really well. I’m pleased with him. We also have Gavin Reilly coming into that area, plus Sam Nicholson, Jamie Walker, Billy King and Gary Oliver. Kenny’s found it hard to get any game time.”
In essence, we may be witnessing the first “flop” of the Neilson/Levein recruitment drive, although one black mark on an otherwise pristine track record is unlikely to have people reaching for the pitchforks and calling for their heads. On the other hand, the reaction to Anderson himself has been surprisingly venomous at times. Regular contributors to Kickback will have witnessed the enthusiasm with which some supporters wrote him off last season, despite how little he featured for the first team.
Unfortunately for players like Kenny Anderson, this level of supporter expectation is entirely symptomatic of the club’s progression in the past year. In past seasons when the going was getting as tough as it possibly could, supporters would often romanticise about those players who were out of the team and convince themselves that their re-introduction was imperative.
Of course, with the team having been in great form since August 2014, no such scenario has come up. What is slightly bizarre about the current situation, however, is the eagerness of fans to attribute “passenger” or “wage thief” status to those fringe players who have found themselves in the wilderness. If players of Anderson’s calibre are struggling to even make the bench, surely that is a sign of the strength in depth Neilson has at his disposal and something to be enjoyed rather than used as an excuse to roundly criticise?
There is also the tendency for supporters to have more patience with some players than others. In particular, home-grown youngsters tend to be afforded more time than foreign signings who are expected to make more of an instant impact (despite being relatively young themselves). Alim Ozturk, for example, has settled well and is now a popular figure with Hearts supporters, though at the start of last season, it took only a few shaky moments in the opening games before he had some fans in a bit of tizzy. For those less fortunate in that regard, see Anderson and El Hass.
Compare this with the likes of Scott Robinson and (to some extent) Jason Holt, two players who failed to impress a number of different managers and yet never really felt the ire of those in the stands; quite the opposite in the case of Holt, whose departure rankled with many at the time (and possibly still does for some).
While Neilson’s comments suggested that Anderson is keen to stay and fight for his place in the team, the same was said about James Keatings last season, whose departure shortly after showed that the lure of regular first team football elsewhere can easily change a player’s mind. If Anderson does stay, it can only be a good thing for the team as a whole to have backup in an area that seems a little thin on the ground.
However, with Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben looking strong in the centre and Sean McKirdy breaking into the first team picture, it may take an injury or suspension to give him his break. It is more likely, therefore, that Anderson’s immediate future lies elsewhere. If that turns out to be the case, then good luck Kenny, we hardly knew ye!
Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on August 29, 2015.