Andy Driver open to offers after being converted to left-back
A Tynecastle Scottish Cup-winning legend who plays left-back and is available for free this summer. Chances of Andy Driver returning to solve Hearts' problem position are remote, even if the man himself is open to offers from anywhere.
The 30-year-old is out of contract at Dutch club De Graafschap, where he has been converted from a left winger into a full-back. He worked repeatedly on his defending earlier this season to retain his place on the left of coach Henk de Jong’s back four.
Whether he stays there next season is undecided. De Graafschap must negotiate three two-legged play-off ties starting next week if they are to gain promotion from the Netherlands’ Jupiler League [second division] to the Eredivisie. Club officials can’t offer many contract extensions until their destiny is clear.
That leaves Driver, wife Jackie and their baby son Findlay in limbo at their Arnhem home. The player is fairly relaxed about his contract expiring in a few weeks. He would discuss a return to Scotland but knows Hearts are unlikely to come calling despite seeking a solid, attack-minded left-back for next season. For now, Driver is content to wait and see what transpires over the next month or so.
“Jackie is laughing because we’ve never really thought about it,” he says when asked where he sees his future. “We’re coming to the end of the season and we’re coming into the play-offs. The club want promotion so it’s hard for them to give contracts right now. We’re looking at making any decision at the end of the season.
“I’ve had a great time here, it’s been brilliant. I’ve been lucky to play with a great club in front of great fans. De Graafschap don’t know if they’re going to be in the Jupiler League or the Eredivisie. They’re trying to tie up as many players as they can. Being a bit older, you kind of get put towards the back of the queue when it comes to contracts, which is understandable. We’re happy either way here.
“I’d consider anything. We have a baby so you need to be a bit more settled but, with him being so young, I’ve probably still got a couple of years of being able to try other things. We’re completely open. It’s not all my say. My wife gets her say as well. She’ll probably be wanting Monaco or something.”
He laughs at the prospect. Having gone to America from Hearts and found a wife, then become a father in the Netherlands, life has taught the Englishman the merits of trying new things.
“My experiences here and in America have shown me that you’ve got to take a chance sometimes. I’d be very open to a move back to Scotland. I always enjoyed my time there and I think it would be a good challenge to go back. It would be exciting to go back and play in Scotland after all this time.”
Hearts? Or somewhere else? “I love Hearts. I had a great ten years there, won the cup in 2012 and everything. They would have to want me, that’s the thing.”
They definitely want a left-back of some sort for next season. Manager Craig Levein plans to try for another loan deal for Manchester United’s Demetri Mitchell. Like Driver, he has recently been transformed from left winger into left full-back.
“I’ve ended up left-back over here,” explains Driver. “At the end of last season we played 3-5-2 and I was playing left wing-back, which really suited me. This year we didn’t start too well so we changed to a back four. They must’ve seen something good in me at left-back because that’s where I’ve played all season.
“It’s been a good experience, something different. It’s not my favourite position. I don’t enjoy it as much as left midfield but you need to do what is needed for the team. I’ve enjoyed learning the opposite side of the game and having to defend more.
“You get more comfortable possession as a full-back, it’s just not in attacking areas as much. People will probably understand I’ve had to get a lot better at heading the ball and defending. I’m fairly pleased but I’ve only been playing left-back for eight months. There’s a lot I can improve on.”
He no longer needs to prove himself when it comes to physical fitness. Driver grew frustrated by persistent injury problems at Hearts and Houston Dynamo earlier in his career but is now reaping the benefits of maturity.
He played 27 times in his first season with De Graafschap. Last season he amassed 33 appearances, with 23 to his name so far this year. He can no longer be labelled “the injury-prone Andy Driver”.
“That was always the doubt put next to my name. When I was younger I had a few injuries. It’s disheartening,” he says.
“When you’re younger, you don’t really know your own body. I’ve learned how to look after myself here and that’s led to me not being injured. I like looking after myself.
“I do more stretching nowadays on my own to prepare for training. I worked hard when I was younger, I just didn’t know how to prepare the body as I do now. Keeping fit, flexible, knowing what to eat, everybody is different. I’ve found a way of ensuring I can play a lot of games.
“I’m still fit. My GPS statistics on running are really good. It’s not as if I’m old and I can’t do it any more. I haven’t been injured for a good few years, barring a little niggle a few weeks ago. I feel strong. Maybe left-back has been good for me but I still like attacking more.”
He will attack the Dutch play-offs starting next Thursday against Telstar. At a club nicknamed the Superboeren [Superfarmers], the next few weeks offer Driver the chance to harvest his own future.