HEARTS have had their transfer embargo lifted after satisfying the SPL that they have reached agreement with their players over the payment of bonuses and appearance money.
However, for the rest of the season the Tynecastle club can still only sign under-21 players, and must operate a one-in, one-out policy, with any new signings receiving less money than the man they replaced.
The sticking point which led to the imposition of the total ban was the revelation that Hearts had not paid bonus and appearance fees to their squad, They argued that the timing of the payments was discretionary, whereas at many clubs those payments are made monthly along with salaries.
Hearts have now settled the outstanding payments with some players, while others have signed written agreements that the club can make the payments at a later date. Previously those agreements were only verbal.
The departure of defender Ryan McGowan to China this month means that manager John McGlynn can already bring in one replacement, but, while welcoming the lifting of the ban, he suggested that finding such replacements would be easier said than done, and might necessitate a move into the English market.
“It’s good news,” McGlynn said yesterday. “Obviously it helps. We’ve lost a couple of players now and we have a few injuries and suspensions, so it might come in handy that the transfer ban has been lifted.
“It’s still very restrictive. We have four players in the Scotland Under-21s, so where are we going to get better players to come in? You’re really looking down to the English market and players who are not playing at their clubs down there who you are going to take a chance on.
“Although the transfer embargo has been lifted, it’s not as if there are players who are hanging off the edge of trees who can just come in and hit the ground running.”
Both McGlynn and Hearts director of football John Murray have regularly been watching matches in England this season, but the manager warned that talented young players from south of the Border would not automatically thrive in the SPL.
“John Murray has been down every weekend since the under-21 league in England started, and I have been down the majority of Monday nights,” he said. “So for a number of weeks we have been watching games and trying to cover all the teams.
“We’ve been managing to see right across the board at the English clubs and we’ll just need to see if there’s anything we can work out. It’s not easy, because these are generally players who are not playing in their first teams.
“Some of these players are not getting a game because their teams are spending millions of pounds, so you could knock it off and get really good young talent, but, at the same time, it’s still a test to play in the SPL in a first-team game.”
With captain Marius Zaliukas and midfielder Ryan Stevenson both suspended, McGlynn predicted that the team which starts tomorrow’s league game at Celtic Park will be a very youthful one.
“It will probably be one of the youngest Hearts teams that’s ever been put out,” he continued.
“Scott Robinson is still recovering from the knock he got from [Hibernian captain] James McPake in the derby and he’s out. Mehdi [Taouil] isn’t out, but is struggling,
“Marius and Ryan are both suspended. We lost half a squad in the summer, we’ve lost [David] Templeton, we’ve lost McGowan.”
McGlynn knew when he took the job in the summer, and established stars such as Ian Black and Rudi Skacel were allowed to leave, that he faced a period of retrenchment in which the squad would perforce become younger.
What he did not know then, however, was the severity of the financial problems Hearts would face over the closing months of last year – or the SPL strictures which would be applied on them as a result.
Nonetheless, he has always maintained he will persevere in the post for as long as he is able, and yesterday was no exception. “Until someone grabs a baseball bat and starts smashing me over the head I’ll carry on fighting with what we’ve got, irrespective of anything. Younger players will go in: next one, next one, next one. That’s how it will go.
“We don’t have the luxury of having any other choice. I don’t have any experienced players not in the team. That is it.
“My hands are tied, I don’t have any scope. It will just be younger and younger players.”