Hearts keen to sign centre-back before transfer deadline

Hearts have held talks with Gareth McAuleyHearts have held talks with Gareth McAuley
Hearts have held talks with Gareth McAuley
Hearts are keen to sign another centre-back ahead of Friday's transfer deadline.

Despite loaning 20-year-old Jimmy Dunne from Burnley just last week, the Tynecastle want some more experienced cover with Christophe Berra and Aaron Hughes both injured.

Talks have taken place with Gareth McAuley, the 38-year-old former West Bromwich Albion defender, who is a free agent. Hearts assistant coach Austin MacPhee, who takes charge on Saturday whilst manager Craig Levein recovers from illness, confirmed the interest in McAuley.

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MacPhee knows the player well from his part-time role as a Northern Ireland assistant coach but hinted that a deal could be difficult. Rangers and Ipswich are also interested.

“Gareth McAuley is a player I know really well,” he said. “I’ve worked with him for five years and I have huge respect for him. He still trains every day. All his GPS info is right up there and his stats defy his age - maybe because he came into football a bit later.

“But I don’t know if Gareth will become a Hearts player. He is a player both myself and the manager like but it depends on a few things with the budget and with what we need that centre-back to do, and what Gareth wants to do as well. But we have had a chat with him.”

Demetri Mitchell arrived on loan from Manchester United on Tuesday and MacPhee explained that Hearts’ recruitment is now functioning better thanks to extra scouts.

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“About a year ago we invested a lot in our scouting. It used to be, fundamentally, just John Murray. We’ve hired another four scouts. For example, when Christophe Berra tore his hamstring, by the time the game finished our scout in England had already recommended Jimmy Dunne and sent us three reports on him.

“We didn’t have that infrastructure before and, within 48 hours, Jimmy Dunne is at the club and then he plays really well against Kilmarnock last week.

“Having these processes in place allows the team to perform better. Our transfer targets have been clear for a while. People are sometimes waiting for something to happen before somebody can leave. We are where we are in the food chain and money needs to move or players need to move.

“We had three or four significant bits of business at the start of the week that we wanted to do, which would probably result in three or four players leaving as well.

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“Once we know Demetri is coming, Bobby Burns can go to Livingston. It has been organised for a while and Craig has given me experience before of dealing with transfers so I know what to do. He sets the parameters and then at times it’s a case of phonecalls and small negotiations.”