“COULD do better.” Andy Webster couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw those words had been uttered by the great Zinedine Zidane during an interview at the height of his playing career.
If the legendary Frenchman can adopt such a philosophy, Webster knows he and his mid-table Hearts team are certainly in no position to be content with their lot.
Like the revered Zidane, the 29-year-old is aware there’s always room for improvement, be it on a personal level or as part of a team. With this in mind, the fact Hearts currently sit sixth in the Scottish Premier League doesn’t sit comfortably with the 29-year-old centre-back.
Although they have countered their patchy league form with progress to the semi-finals of the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup, Webster acknowledges there is enough quality at Tynecastle to be further up the table and and insists his team must aim higher. “I remember reading an interview with Zidane once and he said that he could do better, so there’s always room for improvement,” he said. “As a player and as a team you always strive to do better than you have done previously.
“You know, if you win the league by ten points you want to win it by 15 the next year. If you win the cup then you want to go on and win another one – or if you finish third in the league then you want to get closer to second.
“It’s a never-ending desire to improve yourself because nobody waits for you in this game. If you sit back and think that you’ve done okay or rest on your laurels the, before you know it, someone will overtake you. From the team’s point of view, we would all like to be in a slightly better situation than we are. You can’t afford to take a step back in football. But there is still a bit to go in terms of the league finishing, so hopefully we can show some good form between now and then and rectify the situation. If we can do that then we will be looking to push it on again into next season.”
Webster signed a two-year deal to return to Tynecastle in February last year, despite having other offers on the table from clubs in England as well as Edinburgh rivals Hibs. The former Rangers and Dundee United player had previously spent five years with the club – from 2001 to 2006 – before invoking a little-known transfer clause in his contract in order to join Wigan before finding his way to Ibrox, where injury curtailed his career. Hearts had wanted around £4.5 million for the centre-back at the time, only to have to accept just £150,000 following a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
It was a tough time for the Tynecastle club as they lost one of their most solid performers, but also for the player himself as he fell foul of the club hierarchy and incurred the wrath of some supporters. However he’s more interested in looking to the future and is loving playing in front of the Hearts support once again. “I have always loved playing at Tynecastle and getting a regular run in the team as well has definitely benefited me,” he said. “I had a great time here first time around and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
“I didn’t have any issues about coming back here – I could have made easier decisions and gone elsewhere. But I wanted to come back here again and I was more than willing to take whatever came my way, be it good, bad or indifferent. I think when you get that bit older you learn to deal with things slightly better. If I had been in any way apprehensive, then I wouldn’t have made the decision to come back here. It was a football decision. Having played and been here before, I already knew what the club was all about and I wanted to be part of that again.”
Back at Hearts, playing regular football again and staying relatively free of injury after a couple of nightmare seasons, means that Webster can finally enjoy his game again. It also allows him to shed his “injury-prone” tag. “I think there comes a stigma when you miss a period of games because of injuries, so from that point of view it is just nice to concentrate on the football and just enjoy the competitive side of it,” he said. “There’s nothing to beat the feeling on a Saturday at 3 o’clock, you need to win and everyone is in it together.”
In good form for his club, Webster is now keen to re-establish himself in the international set-up. Although stressing that Hearts are his priority, he admitted he would love to get a Scotland call-up from his old manager Craig Levein. He said: “Once you’ve tasted it, you always want a bit more. First and foremost you worry about your club form. Craig Levein brought me to Hearts as a young boy and took me to Dundee United so I have a lot of respect for him as a manager.”
Webster was speaking at the launch of the Hearts Players’ Player of the Year vote and he reckons Ian Black is a front-runner for the gong: “I think Blackie is a quality player. Sometimes people tend to try to highlight the other side of it [his temperament] but he’s technically very good, he can pass the ball with both feet, works hard for the team and he dictates play a lot of the time for us. I think the Hibs game last Sunday really highlighted that about him.”