Hearts captain Christophe Berra: ‘I won’t play every week as I get older. I don’t know how I’ll cope’
The realist within Christophe Berra knows more time on the substitutes’ bench is inevitable. Accepting that eventuality is tough for the Hearts captain after a career of being an ever-present in both Scotland and England.
He turns 35 in January and, like most footballers of such vintage, resting and recuperating while maintaining form and fitness becomes evermore challenging. He doesn’t like it, but Berra has always been a pragmatic type who knows how the world works.
Saturday’s goalless draw at St Mirren saw him left out for the first time by the Hearts manager Craig Levein. He got a full 25 minutes’ rest and will probably be back in the starting line-up against Kilmarnock this weekend following Craig Halkett’s knee injury.
He may, nonetheless, need to reluctantly get used to the dugout view. “I’ll play every game but the gaffer said he was going to change it at St Mirren,” said Berra in an exclusive Evening News intervew. “Obviously I’m getting older, I’m 35 soon but I still feel fit. I was ready when I came on at the weekend and I did what you would expect anyone to do coming off the bench. You just go and do your job.
“I’ve played over 600 games and I’ve done not bad. Apart from one injury, I’ve always been ever-present. Maybe long-term this will do me good. I just want to play every game. I know that, because I’m getting older, there will be times I won’t be playing. I’ll have to rest and I might get niggles. I don’t know how I’ll cope with it but it’s part and parcel of getting older. That’s why I have to start getting into coaching to occupy my brain.”
How much more time he spends on the bench will depend on his performances and overall condition. “That will be down to the manager. Also it’s down to how you perform,” he admitted. “Wherever I’ve been, I’ve always played week in and week out. I’ve not been one for sitting on the bench. I’m getting to that age now and things will happen in the future, but I’m still ready to go. I’m not thinking like that at all. I’m here to be a starter, I know I’m captain and I’ll do things the right way.
“No matter what happens, you have to make sure you are a good influence and help the younger players. Especially people like Aaron Hickey and Andy Irving. I’ve done a lot of things with them. They are only young boys learning their trade and they are only going to get better. It’s vital you pass on your experience.”
Berra has plenty to impart after two spells with Hearts, time in England’s Premier League and Championship, plus 41 Scotland caps. He needed his nous to help Hearts on Saturday after replacing the injured Halkett.
“Coming off the bench isn’t great when you’re a defender and it’s 0-0. It’s alright when you’re a striker – you can come on and win the game,” he smirked. “It wasn’t a physically hard game but there was a lot of concentration towards the end. St Mirren brought two lively strikers on who could have caused problems if we left space. When you come on, you do your job like everyone else.”
The intention was that he would rest for longer than just 25 minutes. “I know. I was thinking that Michael Smith usually gets cramp as well so you’re always on the edge of your seat. Sometimes it’s worse on the bench. You would rather play or not be involved at all. It’s worse being a defender but we kept a clean sheet.
“Overall 0-0 is not a disaster. We wanted to finish a good week with a win but St Mirren ran Rangers close and beat Aberdeen. They are well-organised, sit deep and try to counter-attack. I don’t think Joel [Pereira] had much to do.
“I had two chances myself and their keeper made two saves. It was a hard week with three games in six days. A lot of boys are tired.”