Analysis: How Hearts' squad shapes up for season ahead
Three goalkeepers, three defenders, seven midfielders and four forwards. The metamorphosed Hearts squad is ready for all eventualities after the biggest recruitment drive in the club's 144-year history. And there may yet be more to come.
Club management are still scouring the free agent market for any potential bargains following the transfer window closure last Friday. After 17 summer signings, the Riccarton dressing room may already look rather cramped. Most of the newcomers seem to represent shrewd business having already propelled Hearts to the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership.
The international break allows those in charge to reflect on four league wins from four and an unbeaten record of nine games since the Betfred Cup began on July 18. There will be no resting on laurels, for the Hearts squad was reconstructed with the long-term in mind.
Specifically, it was rebuilt to compete at the top end of the league and in the latter stages of major cup competitions. Last season’s sixth-place Premiership finish didn’t go down well so manager Craig Levein brought in significant experience, interspersed with youthful potential. There is one key commodity possessed by all his signings: Ambition.
Zdenek Zlamal and Colin Doyle are both thirtysomething goalkeepers with wide-ranging and varied CVs. The Czech has established himself as first choice with the Republic of Ireland internationalist an able-bodied deputy. They replace record-breaker Jon McLaughlin and Jack Hamilton from last year. Silva, the young American, was signed to join the reserve squad.
Australian Ben Garuccio is the undisputed left-back and appears to provide a permanent solution to a problem position. Clevid Dikamona is the latest arrival having joined on Sunday as a free agent. A Congolese international centre-back, he brings experienced cover with captain Christophe Berra injured.
On-loan from Burnley, 20-year-old Jimmy Dunne partnered John Souttar in central defence in the last two matches – the 1-0 win at Kilmarnock and Saturday’s 4-1 victory against St Mirren.
The veteran Aaron Hughes has been recovering from a calf complaint for the last fortnight and is currently on international duty with Northern Ireland. Michael Smith, also off representing his country, is in the last year of his contract at right-back, with promising young full-backs Jamie Brandon and Marcus Godinho currently rehabilitating from long-term knee injuries.
Midfield is the area of most transformation. Seven players were added to that department as the likes of Ross Callachan and Malaury Martin moved out. Peter Haring arrived from Austria as a centre-back but is now an authoritative central midfielder carrying the added bonus of a goal threat.
Beside him, Olly Lee is another one not averse to rippling rigging after leaving Luton Town for Tynecastle Park. Their performances have left the Australian internationalist Oliver Bozanic kicking his heels on the bench alongside another new arrival, Jake Mulraney.
Demetri Mitchell’s return on loan from Manchester United was one of the highlights of the transfer window for Hearts fans. He impressed at left-back during last season’s loan spell but tormented St Mirren on Saturday from left midfield. He is expected to be used in the more advanced role given Garuccio’s dependency at full-back.
The weekend win also saw Cameroon’s African Cup of Nations winner Arnaud Djoum reappear after six months out with a snapped Achilles.
Another player striding into prominence during the summer was 19-year-old winger Callumn Morrison. His direct style on the right augurs well for the future, with fellow teens Anthony McDonald and Harry Cochrane also fighting for midfield game time.
So overcrowded has the area become that summer signings Ryan Edwards and Bobby Burns have already been loaned to St Mirren and Livingston respectively. Burns in particular should have a big part to play in maroon during forthcoming campaigns but will benefit from game time in West Lothian as a hungry 18-year-old. What the future holds for the Danish winger Danny Amankwaa is anyone’s guess.
Up front, selling Kyle Lafferty to Rangers seemed inevitable. Losing your top goalscorer would affect any club but Hearts were well prepared for his exit.
Signing Uche Ikpeazu, Steven MacLean and Craig Wighton, plus negotiating Steven Naismith’s loan return from Norwich City, means Levein still has a variety of attacking options which are the envy of many Premiership teams. That has allowed Aidan Keena, Rory Currie and Dario Zanatta to join lower-league clubs on loan.
Hearts’ new-look squad have built momentum in the season’s opening weeks and will aim to maintain it after the international break. Their conversion from top-six also-rans into table-toppers is the result of a manic but carefully-planned summer.
HEARTS’ CURRENT SQUAD
Ryan Edwards (on loan to St Mirren)
Bobby Burns (on loan to Livingston)
Rory Currie (on loan to East Fife)
Dario Zanatta (on loan to Alloa)
Aidan Keena (on loan to Dunfermline)