HEARTS are ready to begin the process of fast-tracking youth players into the first team, with three of their top under-19s expected to join Raith Rovers on loan this week to gain vital experience.
Midfielder Jason Holt and strikers David Smith and Jamie Walker all featured in a bounce game for the First Division club on Saturday and are preparing to move to Stark’s Park until January. Thereafter, they could find themselves promoted to the first team at Hearts if several senior players leave during the predicted cost-cutting process.
All three teenagers signed contract extensions on Friday which tie them to Hearts until 2014. They are considered future first-team prospects alongside the likes of goalkeeper Mark Ridgers and striker Robert Ogleby, both currently loaned to East Fife.
Holt, Smith and Walker require experience of first-team football and Tynecastle officials hope that playing with Raith until January, under the tutelage of manager John McGlynn, will accelerate their development.
McGlynn is highly regarded by the Hearts hierarchy having helped develop youngsters like Christophe Berra, Andy Driver and Robbie Neilson during his time as youth coach with the club.
As the Edinburgh club prepares for drastic changes to the first-team squad over the next six months, youth players must be ready and able to step up if necessary.
“We have several players that have reached the peak of their career at Hearts and are ready for a move,” explained director Sergejus Fedotovas on the Hearts website. “Whether this will be January or the summer – we will need to see what options will be available to us. Our priority remains on escalating the rise of the young players in our squad.
“We have some very talented young players and we are now entering a transformational time for the club on field. Our strategy involves bringing through the best young players while selling or releasing some of the senior and fringe players. The board’s view is that Hearts not only should be a very different team next season and thereafter, but also it will be a very different team.
“We are confident that we can mix the right blend of senior players with aspiring and talented younger players then we should still be in a position to challenge at the top end of the league and in cup competitions.”
Fedotovas has also pledged that first-team players currently still awaiting November’s wages will be paid in full. “I think it is important, at this stage, to credit the players for their professionalism in the matter,” he continued.
“I do believe they understand that when we say we are doing everything to source funding for their salaries then they accept that we are.
“We have paid 33 of our players already and looking forward to catching up at some point soon.
“However, it is perhaps one of the clearest indications yet that football clubs all over the world are facing severe challenges financially.
“A quick snapshot of clubs elsewhere shows the extreme measures some clubs are taking to maintain a viable business. Despite a sporadic delay at times, we have always paid our players and we fully intend to continue to do so.”