Former captain Christophe Berra hopes Hearts keep faith with their burgeoning band of youngsters once they get back on the straight and narrow.
After years of off-field chaos under Vladimir Romanov and an exceptionally difficult current season in which they have had to compete in Scotland’s top flight with a team made up almost entirely of young players, the way was paved for Hearts to return to a semblance of normality when they successfully hurdled the last major obstacle in their long and gruelling battle to emerge from administration yesterday.
With Ann Budge in line to take over as early as next month, Hearts fans, who have seen the arrival of only a handful of new players over the past four years, have been salivating at the possibility of their club doing normal things, like venturing into the transfer market, once again.
Berra, one of Hearts’ most successful exports of the modern era, acknowledges that his old club could do with adding one or two older heads to ensure a more balanced squad for next season’s Championship campaign. However, the Ipswich Town and Scotland centre-back believes that the young players who have been tossed in at the deep end this season deserve the chance to try to build on the experience they have gained so far by being allowed to flourish in a far more stable environment next term.
“There’s a lot of young lads there who’ve not had much experience and maybe in past Hearts teams they might not have been involved, but they’ve done themselves proud,” Berra told the Evening News. “They’ve been playing with a bit less pressure lately and they’ve had a few good results. You’ve got to give them credit. They’ve maybe not always had the results they’ve wanted but I think the fans can see that they’ve given everything for the cause and that’s all you can ask of them at this stage.
“I don’t know the exact situation in terms of finances for bringing in new players but I hope they stick with the young players who have played this season. It’s been a turbulent year for them but they’re a talented group of players who have come through a great youth system. It’ll be good for them playing in the Championship.
“They could probably do with a bit extra experience because there will be added pressure from fans expecting them to beat the likes of Raith Rovers and Hamilton. They’ll be a big scalp in the league. But it’d be good if they stick with roughly the same squad and maybe add one or two more experienced players to help them.”
Berra, who broke into the Hearts first team in 2003 before being sold to Wolves for £2.3 million in 2009, hopes Hearts, even if they do find improved fortunes under Budge, continue to provide a regular pathway from their academy to the first team.
“Hopefully they’ll continue to have that youth system,” said Berra of a set-up that managed to nurture the likes of himself, Lee Wallace, Andrew Driver, Eggert Jonsson and Ryan McGowan into key first-team members in an era when the club were spending big on established professionals. “The most important thing is that they keep producing players, get three or four years out of them and then sell them to help the club move forward. Hearts will always sell eventually because all teams in Scotland, including Celtic, have to sell their best players but as long as they have that youth system they’ll be ok.”
Having joined Hearts at the tail end of Chris Robinson’s reign, played for the club through the rollercoaster Romanov years and then watched from afar as they diced with oblivion over the past year or so, Berra has only really known Hearts in a state of flux. As an Edinburgh boy who still cares deeply for the club that gave him his big chance in football, it was with some relief that he noted them taking a major step towards safety when news broke that BIDCO 1874, Budge’s vehicle for taking the club out of administration, had finally secured an agreement for the transfer of Ukio Bankas’s 29.9 per cent shareholding.
“It’s great news for Hearts,” he said of the latest developments. “Hopefully they [Ukio] can’t backtrack on the agreement and everything can get pushed through as soon as possible. The new owner’s a Hearts fan, which I think is a good thing.
“There’s been a lot of chaos around the club over the last few years but the players and staff deserve real credit for getting on with their jobs and not letting it affect them. It’ll be good for the club to start afresh, get a proper structure in place for wages and stuff like that and become financially sound again. You want them to spend a bit of money to eventually get back up to third, second or, you never know, possibly even first place some time down the line because Hearts, in normal circumstances, should always be up there challenging at the top of the table.”