Craig Levein: Hearts' Christophe Berra is best defender in league
Craig Levein has hailed Hearts captain Christope Berra as the best central defender in the SPFL Premiership after he helped Hearts to another clean sheet in Saturday's 2-0 win over Aberdeen before claiming the club's Players' Player and Fans' Player of the Year Awards 24 hours later.
Berra has barely put a foot wrong since returning to Hearts from Ipswich last summer and the 33-year-old receiving the recognition from his team-mates and supporters last night will have come as no surprise.
Knowing more than most what is required to be a top centre-back in Scotland, ex- defender Levein feels Berra’s consistency is what elevates him above defenders at rival clubs.
“He’s the best centre-back in the league,” said the Hearts boss. “I don’t think there’s anybody who could look at him. He just does the same thing week in and week out. His performance drop off is half a per cent, if that, which is amazing.
“He just keeps doing the same things with a degree of consistency that helps everybody in the team, in particular the guys at the back. He’s been fantastic this season, he really has been and I give a lot of the credit for our ability not to go into a slide, down to him and his performances.”
Attacking midfielder David Milinkovic made a goalscoring return to the starting line-up with his sixth of the season to put Hearts 2-0 up. It remains to be seen whether the French-Serbian’s move will become a permanent one in the summer and Levein plans to use the idle weekend this week to finalise plans.
“I’ve meetings with all the players next weekend,” he confirmed. “I’ll be talking to everybody and hopefully there will be news on that front after that.”
It is likely to be a summer that sees another plentiful turnover of players at Tynecastle. Don Cowie isn’t one of those out of contract, but the midfielder believes the uncertainty surrounding some players will ensure they all have something to prove in the remaining five post-split fixtures.
“We’ve got plenty to play for – we’ve got our futures to play for,” Cowie insisted. “Come the summer the manager’s going to be looking to make changes because it’s another window for him to put his stamp on the squad. We know we’ve got more than enough to pay for in that sense.”
Cowie’s deal doesn’t expire until 2019 and he hasn’t ruled out playing beyond then. “I’ve got another year, but I wouldn’t say that’s me alright,” said the 35-year-old. “When you see these 16 and 17-years-olds coming on, it keeps you on your toes. I know that I can’t stand still. I need to keep working hard and when I get a game, make the most of it.
“Everyone tells me to play as long as I can and that’s what I intend to do. Days like Saturday make you really want to carry on so the more we can have days like that, the more I’ll keep plugging away.”