Robbie Neilson believes Hearts’ newly-appointed Under-20s coach Jon Daly has the perfect personality to nurture the club’s youngsters towards the first team.
It was announced on Wednesday that the 32-year-old Irishman will arrive at the club in January to take up the role as Jack Ross’s successor once he honours the remainder of his playing contract with Raith Rovers.
Head coach Neilson played alongside the former Rangers striker at Dundee United and believes the ex-Tannadice skipper has all the required credentials to fit in at Riccarton. “Jon will be a great guy to have about the club,” he told the Evening News. “He was captain when I was there and he led the dressing-room. Everybody looked up to him and he’ll be the same with the 20s. He’s a good character who wants to move into coaching and he’s somebody the players will respect.”
Daly has been playing regularly for Raith Rovers this season, but Neilson, who quit playing for East Fife to become Hearts’ Under-20s coach himself two years ago, believes the striker, who has obtained his coaching badges, is ready to move into the next phase of his career.
“I can see exactly why he’s decided to take the role,” said Neilson. “I was in the exact same situation as Jon a few years ago. I was player/assistant manager at East Fife and you have to balance things off against how much you want to play and how much you want to be a coach.
“If an opportunity comes up, you have to decide whether you’re ready to hang the boots up. Jon is probably similar to myself in the sense that he’ll have reached the stage where playing football wasn’t as enjoyable as coaching. Towards the end, I was enjoying coaching far more than playing. When the opportunity comes you’ve got to grasp it.
“It’s testament to Jon that he could probably have come here right away but he decided that because he had signed a contract at Raith he didn’t want to leave them in the lurch and wanted to honour it. That’ll give him a good chance to prepare himself for coming in.
“We’re hoping in the next few months that he’ll be able to come along and start doing a wee bit of work to get himself bedded in. That’s something we’ll need to clear with Raith Rovers first but I’m sure Jon will be desperate to get started.”
When Daly arrives he will be tasked with aiding the development of Canadian forward Dario Zanatta, 18, and 16-year-old centre-back Daniel Baur, who have been on the bench for the first team in recent games.
“Dario’s a young player who is developing but he’s done really well in training and in the 20s games so we’ve brought him into the fold,” Neilson explained. “He’s still classified as a development player but hopefully he’ll continue to progress and get himself into a position where he can be considered an option as a starter.
“Daniel has just come in from school, but he’s a 6ft 4ins centre-half with huge potential. At the moment, it’s just potential. Similar to Dario, he’s got a long way to go. He was on the bench [at Partick Thistle] last weekend because we had a few injuries and he’d done well in the 20s games and for Scotland Under-17s. Hopefully as time progresses he’ll be one that moves towards the first team.”
Meanwhile 18-year-old Hearts centre-back Jahmal Howlett-Mundle has joined League Two side Montrose on a four-week-long emergency loan.