RYAN McGOWAN reckons the current Hearts squad should be cut some major slack – as some of them should still be in school rather than mixing it with the country’s most seasoned footballers.
The Australian defender was one of the Tynecastle side’s young guns when he broke through as a 21-year-old in 2011, but the average age has dropped dramatically since his departure for Chinese Super league outfit, Shandong ten months ago.
Any 21-year-old at Hearts now is considered one of their more experienced players, with the club’s financial demise leaving Jamie MacDonald, Jamie Hamill and Ryan Stevenson as the only players in their late 20s available to Gary Locke.
The Hearts youngsters have had to battle against a 15-point deduction, and the odds, this season. And former Tynecastle favourite McGowan believes it was always going to be unlikely that they could hold their own in a league in which McGowan and more experienced colleagues like Rudi Skacel, Ian Black, Marius Zaliukas and Andy Webster struggled to make any real impact just two seasons ago.
Back training at Riccarton this week before jetting out to Sydney to join up with the Australia squad, McGowan said: “Half of the boys getting changed in the first-team dressing-room should still be at school. It’s certainly different from the dressing-room that I knew but I think it’s unfair when I read stuff saying Hearts are inexperienced and dropping points that they should be picking up.
“I remember Paulo Sergio [the manager two seasons ago] didn’t have a good league record. We were lucky to make the top six and the 5-1 Scottish Cup final covered that season up dramatically for us.
“If we hadn’t won the Scottish Cup I don’t think Paulo Sergio would have been given the option to stay on for another season in charge. We were dire to watch away from home and even at home we struggled sometimes – I remember Kilmarnock beating us 3-0 at Tynecastle.
“Now you would like to think that experienced Hearts team would beat the current side so I think the fans must remember that. As much as it can be depressing to watch and a bit of a struggle, you have to remember that when we did have a so-called good team and a cup-winning side a lot of times we were pretty dire to watch too.”
McGowan admitted that he feared for his younger brother Dylan’s future when news first broke of Hearts going into administration back in June. Dylan, pictured, who was on the fringes of the first-team squad at the time of Ryan’s departure, has gone on to become a regular fixture in Locke’s starting line-up. McGowan continued: “I’ve obviously been watching very closely, especially with Dylan still being here. I wanted to keep tabs on how the team got on after I left and it was a very sad day when the club went into administration.
“Watching on Facebook and Twitter and seeing people who had been working with me for the last five or six years having to lose their jobs, it was hard to look from afar. It was just a sad state of affairs really.
“I didn’t really want to leave when I did go but the club came to me as it was a big cash injection for them at that time.
“So while I left with a heavy heart I did feel that I had done my bit to repay the club for all they had provided me with for the first six years of my professional career. With Dylan still at the club, that was the biggest worry because you obviously want to be sure that your little brother is sorted.
“At the same time Hearts are too big a club to let it down and the support that the fans have given is incredible. You keeping hearing about how proud people are but it really is amazing to see the effort that people are putting in and really digging deep to help out the club.”
McGowan will soon be able to keep an even closer eye on happenings at Tynecastle after the SPFL this week agreed a deal to screen games over there for the next ten years. The move is expected to coin in around £2million for Scottish clubs each year and McGowan reckons it will be a huge hit among Chinese football fans:
“I think there’s an appetite there. The Chinese don’t really know too much about Europe so they always want to learn about it and the UK especially. There’s a big audience there. I mean in China they say that I live in a little farmer’s village but the population is 32 million! I don’t think people really understand just how big China is so if you show games over there you are going to get millions of people watching. That can only be good for Scottish football.”