Robbie Sow Keen to Keep Key Men
Morning all. The past few days have seen a great deal of focus on those players whose contracts run out at the end of the season, with the backroom team looking to tie down some of our more influential players on longer-term deals. Considering the club’s financial position and the past injury records of several players we have signed, it’s understandable that the club is erring on the side of caution by bringing these guys in on short-term arrangements to begin with.
One need only look as far as Kenny Anderson for an example of a slightly longer-term deal that simply hasn’t worked out for one reason or another. The Dutch midfielder has just under a year of his contract remaining but finds himself completely out of the picture at Hearts and having recently failed to convince Championship side Livingston to bring him in on loan, must surely be assessing his options while those who signed him chalk one up to bad judgement.
As one midfielder has dropped right down the pecking order, another has shot in the opposite direction. The emergence of Arnaud Djoum as the missing piece of Robbie Neilson’s midfield puzzle has been a pleasantly surprising one, considering his arrival was lower key than some of our other signings this season. He was also a signing that provoked a bit of scepticism from supporters, not because there was any question over his relatively unknown ability (although there are always the armchair scouts who base their judgement of a player solely on Wikipedia and YouTube), but because of the way he was marketed as a deep-lying midfielder, a position we were already well-stocked in. Add to that the short-term nature of his deal and his lack of match practice at the time and it was clear why he was greeted with very little fanfare.
Yet only a month on from his first appearance in maroon (a late cameo in the goalless draw at Celtic Park), the Belgian finds himself the subject of praise from manager, supporters and media alike, with an extension to his contract already a top priority for Neilson:
“He’s a good player, I’m pleased with him. He’s signed up until January but we’re trying to get something tied up. He’s a good player who can play in various positions. He’s been at Lech Poznan and he came in on trial and did really well. He just wanted a short-term deal to see what he thought of the place and he’s done great. We’ll hopefully try and get him tied up again and I’d like it to be longer term, but then it’s up to him.”
While the ball will be firmly in Djoum’s court once a contract offer is tabled, the initial signs have been positive, with the player himself expressing satisfaction with life at Hearts.
“My mind is just on playing football and enjoying it with Hearts. After that, we will see what happens. Last year, I didn’t play many games. I’m happy to hear the coach say that he wants to extend the agreement and we will see what happens in the next days. The way we play is going to be important in making my choice. But I am confident this is a very good team that can play good football.”
When Djoum first joined the club, the aforementioned factors such as match fitness and his alleged preferred position led many to label him as a bit of a panic buy. It has since transpired that the Belgian is not the deep-lying midfielder many expected him to be and instead the more cultured box-to-box option we had been crying out for in the opening stages of the season.
After his first start against County, I tweeted that he had all the positive attributes of last season’s Gomis-Buaben midfield partnership at its peak (a sort of two-for-the-price-of-one midfield option), with the former’s composure and defensive solidity and the latter’s effectiveness as a conduit between midfield and attack. Unfortunately for both Gomis and Buaben this season, neither has found the consistent run of form that made them such important players for us in the Championship, which makes the acquisition of Djoum even shrewder. If his performances in his first two starts for the club are anything to go by, he will play a part of similar significance in the season ahead.
Meanwhile, another key player who has declared how happy he is at Tynecastle is Osman Sow, who has been questioned about his own contract renewal talks in the past week after a string of impressive performances. Assuming he does put pen to paper to extend his stay at the club (and there is every indication he will), belief in Robbie Neilson’s methods and the club’s long-term vision will have played an influential part in his decision to do so.
“I’m happy at the moment and I believe in what we’re doing here. I believe in the gaffer, in the staff and in the players, so I’m happy…I just want to play football…I’m doing that at the moment, so it looks good.”
Having struggled with injury for an extended spell during the Championship campaign, the Swedish striker has gradually gathered momentum this season and completed 90 minutes for the fourth time in a row at Firhill on Saturday — a personal best since joining the club. Like a number of our other recent signings, Sow’s fitness problems have been well-publicised since day one and are clearly one of the reasons Hearts have managed to land a player of his talent. Despite reaching double figures in the Championship scoring charts last year, there had always been a nagging feeling that a fully fit Sow would be a different animal altogether, but with three goals in his last two games and his fitness improving steadily, the past few weeks have provided greater insight into what that could look like.
Completing the trio of players Neilson is looking to tie down for longer is Igor Rossi who, like Djoum, was another player who flew in under the radar as a relatively unknown quantity. With Alim Ozturk having been appointed captain and Blazej Augustyn (a player who would later don the captain’s armband during pre-season) arriving as Neilson’s first summer signing, our first-choice centre back pairing appeared to be in place. It was unclear, therefore, what role Rossi would play other than backup. However, since filling at left back until Juwon Oshaniwa finally signed, Rossi has been an ever-present in the centre of defence while his fellow centre backs have struggled with various injury problems.
Unfortunately, with those injuries came a lack of continuity at the back. Add to that the fact that Rossi and his newer defensive colleagues were still settling into unfamiliar surroundings and tackling the associated language barriers, and the defensive frailties that were so glaring in the early stages of the season become more justifiable.
Now that the back four have had time to gel, those problems appear to be confined to the past. One goal conceded in the last five league games is testament to that and Rossi has been a particularly integral part of that success. Assuming his partnership with Augustyn continues to strengthen in the coming weeks (and there is nothing to suggest it won’t) it is difficult to see where Alim Ozturk will fit into the side once he recovers from injury.
Thanks to various injuries and suspensions, Robbie Neilson has not yet faced a selection headache of this kind, but with Jordan McGhee also performing well in recent weeks, it will be interesting to see how Neilson plans to keep four fully-fit centre backs happy without compromising on that valuable defensive stability. His eagerness to secure Rossi on a long-term basis, however, suggests the Brazilian is very much first choice for the time being as long as he maintains his current form. It will be up to the others to dislodge him.
Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on November 5, 2015.