Life doesn’t get much more humbling than the subs’ bench at Ochilview Park. It was from there that Adam Eckersley’s Hearts career began on Tuesday evening.
He is likely to remain a substitute for tomorrow’s match with Falkirk, but don’t expect him to be a regular on the sidelines.
A steely glare in the eyes and strong Mancunian accent are Eckersley’s most obvious characteristics. Go beyond them and you find a searing inner motivation. He joined Hearts merely a week ago but has already developed a deep-rooted determination to become their first-choice left-back.
He is 28, with a CV denoting spells at Manchester United and in Denmark. He rejected offers to train with Scottish Premiership clubs during the summer because they didn’t interest him, yet he chose the Championship to relaunch his career back in Britain.
Eckersley doesn’t seem to do things half-heartedly. He is ready to compete ferociously with Kevin McHattie for that left-back slot and make a name for himself in Edinburgh. “I’m definitely not here to warm a bench. I’ve not been at any club where I’ve warmed the bench,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“I’ve always imposed myself and built a reputation for myself wherever I’ve been. I don’t think that will be any different here. Without disrespecting any of the other players, this is football and it’s about competition. The best player plays and that’s just the way it is.”
Fitness is the priority at the moment as Eckersley is not yet ready to properly challenge for a starting place in Robbie Neilson’s Hearts team. He played the final few minutes of Tuesday’s League Cup win over Stenhousemuir and expects to build on his conditioning work over the coming weeks. Thereafter, he might literally be knocking at the door.
“Kev [McHattie] has done well up to now in the league and he scored on Tuesday night. I’m not in a rush right now,” he continued. “I’ve got to get my level up before I start knocking on the door saying, ‘why am I not playing?’ I’m a few weeks away from that and the coaches know that. They’ll see when I’m ready.
“My last game was May 18. The coaching staff knew I wasn’t 100 per cent fit or ready to start any games. I think they’re going to start pushing me slowly. With training each day, hopefully I can start catching up on the rest of the lads. I want to put my marker down and show what I can do when I’m at my best. Right now, I’m about two or three weeks away from that.
“It’s not been too long since I came on trial for Hearts to have a quick look at me. They had seen a lot of video of me playing for my last club [Aarhus in Denmark]. I had a bit of a whirlwind week to be honest – straight up to Edinburgh, in a hotel, next minute I’m signing and then making my debut. It was a crazy week.
“The manager said to me before the game on Tuesday that he would try and give me 45 minutes. The way the game panned out with injuries and things, it just wasn’t to be. That’s just the way things are sometimes.
“I’m just happy to get a few minutes at the end and actually make my debut. I don’t feel like the new guy any more.”
So why Hearts in the Championship when there were Premiership clubs in Scotland eager to sign Eckersley? “I had a few offers from the Scottish Premiership but Hearts is a massive club. In my mind, it’s probably the third biggest in Scotland behind Rangers and Celtic,” he explained.
“When all the Premiership clubs were asking me to come up and train, it wasn’t really of interest to me. As soon as Hearts offered me a contract, that was it, done deal.
“As soon as I got here, I liked the manager’s ideas on how he wants to play football. This is the way I’ve been brought up from a young age and I want to continue that footballing style of play – ball on the ground and moving it from side to side. That’s what suits me and that’s what will help me continue developing as a player. The guys and the staff were great with me as soon as I got here so it just felt natural.”
Eckersley is already confident of handling his new environment. “I don’t actually know too much about the other teams in this league to be honest, and it doesn’t really bother me too much either. As soon as I build my fitness up I’ll be playing my own game.
“I don’t think I’m going to have any problem with the level of football. I think it’s just a matter of time, finding out how the players in my team play. I’m a stranger to them and they’re strangers to me so it’s difficult to come in and be excellent right away. It’s going to take time but, as soon as that clicks, I think I’m going to put a few markers down.”
Signing a contract until the end of the season allows Eckersley time to make his intended impact. Hearts were slightly wary of offering a longer deal given the defender spent much of last season injured with an ankle problem.
Provided he proves that is now fully behind him, Eckersley could be in for a longer stay at Tynecastle. Neilson was seeking competition in the left-back area and he has most definitely found it with his new Englishman.
“They offered me a year with my track record last season because I had quite a bad injury and didn’t play many games. I had a small crack in the surface of the bone in my ankle and it wasn’t diagnosed right away. I was out for eight months in the end. It was a bit of a nightmare and one to forget.
“I’m here now and it’s time to start building a name for myself again. If Hearts see what they like and I’m happy here, then who knows what the future could hold?”
Right now, he is the pretender to McHattie’s title as Hearts’ undisputed left-back. The challenge is about to begin.