VLADIMIR ROMANOV personally witnessed Eggert Jonsson’s value to Hearts from the Tynecastle directors’ box on Sunday.
Upon returning to Lithuania, the majority shareholder might well have ordered the Icelander’s new contract to be processed immediately.
Never has Jonsson’s talent been better illustrated than in the memorable 2-0 win over Celtic. Romanov would have noted composure on the ball, tenacious tackling and intelligent positioning from a player reared within the Hearts youth academy. All of the above conspired to nullify Celtic’s attacking threat, with Gary Hooper in particular denied space whenever he dropped deep into his favoured area between midfield and attack. Jonsson’s disciplined and authoritative performance set the tone for the afternoon.
His current agreement expires at the end of the season and he has not really been a mainstay of Paulo Sergio’s short tenure at Tynecastle. Yet this player, in the opinion of some, is indispensable to Hearts. That theory was certainly reinforced on Sunday.
“Hearts should move quickly, without a doubt,” said Allan Preston, the former Hearts winger and BBC Radio Scotland pundit. “Anybody worth their salt in the modern game shouldn’t be running down their contract to the last six months. Any club, not just Hearts, who feel they have a valuable asset, should be looking to extend that player’s contract a year before it expires, maybe even 18 months in some cases. That safeguards the player and, equally, safeguards the club.
“On Sunday’s performance, somebody could pay a lot of money for Eggert Jonsson and yet Hearts might end up getting next to nothing because of the situation he’s in. They’ve developed him, given him his chance and he’s played a lot of first-team games. I sincerely hope for Hearts’ sake that they can tie him up on a long-term deal.”
Jonsson, 23, has been used selectively since Sergio replaced Jim Jefferies in early August. His versatility has seen him deployed in every position except goalkeeper at Hearts, which has worked both for and against him at different points of his career. Sunday saw him stake an undeniable claim to play in his preferred position, defensive midfield. He was the reliable buffer between the Hearts midfield and defence. Anything which passed Ian Black and Adrian Mrowiec was collected by Jonsson and redistributed. And any time Hooper wandered into the Icelander’s zone to pick up possession, he was pounced upon.
“I thought Jonsson was man of the match by a considerable distance. He was absolutely outstanding,” continued Preston. “Paulo Sergio’s tactics were spot-on because, if you know Celtic, then you know Gary Hooper jumps into the hole between midfield and forward line. He comes off his marker, which gives the defender a dilemma of whether to go with him or leave him to someone else.
“I thought the tactic of playing Jonsson in there was excellent because he won a lot of balls coming off Hooper. He simply never got turned, and in fact I can’t remember a game since Hooper joined Celtic where he hasn’t had an effort at goal. That happened on Sunday and a lot of it was down to Jonsson being in his area. Every time there was a touch from Hooper, Jonsson was in his face putting in tackles.”
It would be fair to assume Jonsson was one of several names prominent in Sergio’s mind as he departed Tynecastle on Sunday afternoon. Ryan Stevenson, David Templeton, Jamie MacDonald and Mrowiec were also impressive in the slaying of Celtic.
If the Portuguese coach is still unsure of his best team two months into his reign at Hearts, then Jonsson’s display was especially timely. Preston is in no doubt over the player’s importance.
“I would have him in my team every week. He’s the type of player who gives everything, you’d never question his attitude or commitment,” he said. “Week in and week out you can play Jonsson regardless of what personnel you have. He can play left-back, right-back, centre-back, midfield. He even had a couple of games at centre-forward under Csaba Laszlo, although I wouldn’t suggest playing him there.
“But Jonsson would always be in my team. He gives you everything, he’s a winner and you see that every time he plays.”
For best results, Jonsson should be utilised in the role he played against Celtic, according to Preston. “I would say that holding midfield role is his best position. He breaks things up and he can drop back to protect the two centre-backs. He thinks like a defender, he doesn’t think like a forward player. He isn’t the type who is going to thread through balls between centre-backs and full-backs or hit 60-yard diagonals over the top for strikers. He thinks like a defensive midfield player.
“That’s a talent in itself when you look at the likes of Claude Makelele, Neil Lennon, Paul Lambert and even Paul Hartley towards the end of his playing career. It’s a specialised position and you need people who can play that role.
“That’s what I think Jonsson is, a proper defensive midfielder.”
After shackling Hooper and his Celtic colleagues, Jonsson’s next task is considerably more difficult. He faces Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Nani, Joao Moutinho and the rest of Portugal’s international superstars in Porto on Friday night in a European Championship qualifier with Iceland.
The step up in class isn’t likely to faze a player who departed Edinburgh on international duty brimming with confidence, safe in the knowledge he had proved a point on Sunday. It can only be a matter of time before that new contract is drawn up.