Ian Cathro has secured his first signings in management as defenders Aaron Hughes and Lennard Sowah penned six-month contracts with Hearts.
Both players trained for the first time with their new team-mates at Riccarton this morning after agreeing short-term deals. They are initially here until the summer but their contracts could be extended into next season.
Fitness permitting, they will make their Hearts debuts a week on Sunday against Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup.
Cathro wanted 37-year-old free agent Hughes for his vast experience as a former English Premier League defender with Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Fulham.
Left-back Sowah, 24, is also a free agent after leaving Hamilton. He is seen as someone who could solve Hearts’ problem left-back position.
With 104 Northern Ireland caps, Hughes explained that he joined the Edinburgh club to prolong his international career after leaving the Indian side Kerala Blasters. Cathro’s assistant, Austin MacPhee, is also a member of Northern Ireland’s coaching staff and was key to the deal.
“Northern Ireland are in the middle of a World Cup campaign and I was looking to come back and play at a level that will enable me to stay involved with the national team,” said the centre-back, who played at Euro 2016. “That was the idea behind coming back to the UK. Obviously Hearts then came in for me and I believe this club is at a good level.
“First impressions of the club have been very good. I’ve had a few weeks off after coming back from India and I’m delighted to get going again now. I obviously know Austin MacPhee from the Northern Ireland setup and he was my first point of contact here.
“We’ve been in dialogue over the last couple of weeks, I know him well and know how he works so I feel this is the right move. I’m happy to be here and looking forward to keeping my standards up. The question I keep asking myself is whether I’m motivated to carry on and I certainly am. I feel fit and I’m motivated to play for as long as I can.
“It’s something new for me, which is what attracted me to come here. There’s a lot to play for here and we’re in a good position. The first half of the season has been fairly good and I believe there are exciting times ahead here.”
Hughes replaces the outgoing Alim Ozturk, who moved to Turkish second division club Boluspor at the weekend. Having worked with managers like Ruud Gullit, Sir Bobby Robson and Roy Hodgson, he gained a positive first impression from Hearts head coach Cathro.
“First impressions are always a big thing and, from speaking to Ian, it’s clear that he’s very motivated and intelligent. After speaking to him I was convinced that this would be the right challenge for me.”
Sowah joined Hamilton on a short-term contract in October and, after seven appearances, has defected to Tynecastle.
“When I got the offer from Hearts I was really excited about it and I think it’s the right decision for me to sign for Hearts,” he told the club website. “I feel right at home in Scotland. I’ve played in England before and I love the passion for the game over here.
“I’ve had a great welcome from the boys here and they seem like good people.”
Sowah counts St Pauli, Arsenal, Portsmouth and Hamburg amongst his former clubs. “I was only 17 or 18 when I played down there [in England], it was definitely very exciting but that’s in the past. I’m here now and that’s all I’m focused on.
“My favourite position is left-back but I can also play in the middle or out on the wing. Left-back is where I prefer to play and I will do my very best to help the team succeed.”
Meanwhile, Hearts have confirmed the early termination of striker Tony Watt’s loan agreement. He has returned to parent club Charlton Athletic. The club have also confirmed the arrival of two under-20 players – English winger Zidan Akers and Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Gajda.