Quick, imposing, influential: why Hearts should land Christophe Berra

Christophe Berra captained Hearts and would be in line for the armband next season if he returned. Pic: SNS
Christophe Berra captained Hearts and would be in line for the armband next season if he returned. Pic: SNS
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Little Savannah Berra will be blissfully unaware of her influence on Hearts’ summer rebuild. The desire of her father, Christophe, to move home to Edinburgh and be nearer her after four years at Ipswich Town means a return to Tynecastle is open for the Scotland centre-back.

He successfully negotiated his release from Ipswich Town yesterday after persuading them not to invoke their option to extend his contract for another year. By convincing the Suffolk club’s chairman, Marcus Evans, that his daughter should come first, Berra has cleared the path towards possibly ending his career back at his formative club.

Hearts fans will owe four-year-old Savannah a debt of gratitude if the deal comes off. Whilst she innocently scribbles with colouring crayons each day at nursery, talk of her dad’s potential return has lifted spirits amongst a dejected support base in Gorgie – smarting from just six wins in 24 matches since December.

At 32, Berra offers exactly what is needed at Tynecastle right now: A leader with experience of top-level club and international football who knows Hearts well, and whose playing attributes include pace, height and physicality, allied to a genuine desire to defend.

The Evening News has learned he will be considered for the captaincy next season if he signs, with current skipper Perry Kitchen out of favour. It is a mouthwatering prospect for anyone who follows Hearts. It is also a measure of Berra’s character that his need for regular contact with his daughter outweighed a five-figure weekly salary on offer in England.

“He would bring leadership, he would bring standards, he would bring the ability to defend in key moments, and he would bring experience,” explained Steven Pressley, the former Hearts captain who was a father figure to Berra during his first-team breakthrough in maroon in 2006. “You can’t get enough Christophe Berras playing at any football club. I think these guys are vitally important.

“The most important aspect of any centre-back is not the ability to be able to play. I think you can develop those aspects on the training ground.

“The one aspect that’s very difficult to develop is the desire to defend and the ability to smell the danger in any situation. Those things are vital in any successful team. Another thing about Christophe is he’s a natural left-footer, which is difficult to come by in central defence. That’s a big plus.

“He’s still very quick. I don’t think people appreciate his speed. He’s quick across the ground. He’s also an imposing centre-back because he’s 6ft 3ins. That will be noticed, especially in Scotland. He was a big centre-back in England but in Scotland it’s more obvious.

“The one difference I’ve seen since coming down here is the size and athleticism of the players. Christophe would give that to a Hearts team.”

Rangers and other clubs are also keen on a free agent who is a current Scotland internationalist with 35 caps. Berra’s hope is that a deal can be reached with the club that launched his career. He left Hearts in a £2.3million move to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2009 and played in England’s Premier League before joining Ipswich in 2013.

The move to bring him back perhaps also indicates Hearts’ intent to use a three-man defence next season. Head coach Ian Cathro has experimented with that system in recent matches. Aaron Hughes extended his contract only last week and John Souttar will resume playing next season after an Achilles problem. Both are considered regular first-team centre-backs – just as Berra would be regardless of whether he is given the armband.

“There is a lack of what I would consider to be proper centre-backs being developed, not just in Scotland but throughout Europe,” said Pressley, who was managing Fleetwood Town in England’s League One until last July. “I’m talking about players who can stand up to the game, defend and do the basics of the game particularly well. I think, in Christophe, you have somebody who wants to do that.

“He’s a player who is physical, wants to defend his goal, wants to defend one-to-one situations and wants to put his head on things. Most importantly, he wants to smell the danger. He has all those attributes. Every successful team always has that type of defender within their team.

“What did I see in Christophe in 2006? I saw a young, hungry player, who wanted to develop, who wanted to maximise his own potential and who had really good defensive attributes. He also has terrific speed.

“He’s a good influence on people and he’s a far more rounded character now. He’s got great experience of playing international football, Premier League football in England, Championship football in England, and he’s become a captain down here. That in itself shows he understands a dressing-room.

“Managers need players like Christophe Berra in their club. If you treat them properly and they buy into exactly what you are, they become your disciples. They then do a lot of your work in the dressing room for you.”

A move sparked by a father’s need to see his daughter could result in the mother of all transfer coups for Hearts.