CRAIG LEVEIN’S busy summer business is far from over. After signing eight new players, he still wants more. Then the Hearts manager must decide who fits into his team and where, plus who begins season 2018/19 as a squad player.
Pre-season training and friendlies will ordain much of the above. The next few weeks will determine how supporters perceive a group of new recruits who have largely flown under the radar for much of their respective careers.
If the names are not household, they do all appear to share one common denominator: They all bring specific commodities Hearts need for the new campaign.
Czech goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal stands an imposing 6ft 4ins tall. Aged 32 and with spells in Italy, Spain and Turkey on his CV, he carries the experience required to replace the departing Jon McLaughlin.
With Jack Hamilton also sold to Dundee, it is vital Levein installs a reliable No.1 and then finds a decent deputy. Hopes of bringing Allan McGregor to Tynecastle ended when he rejoined Rangers, and Zlamal now faces the slightly unenviable task of following record-breaker McLaughlin.
He will have one advantage McLaughlin didn’t get for most of his year in Edinburgh. Hearts now have a specialist left-back to play in front of the goalkeeper in Ben Garuccio, the Australian plucked from Adelaide United.
Demetri Mitchell played 11 times for Hearts last season on loan from Manchester United. He may yet return if another loan can be agreed, but signing 22-year-old Garuccio should give Levein some reassurance in a problem position.
Midfield is the area needing revitalised most. Injuries to key players saw Hearts unable to influence games the way they wanted last year, so the arrivals of Olly Lee from Luton Town and Ryan Edwards from Partick Thistle are designed to combat that.
Both are central midfielders who offer contrasting approaches and it could be Levein’s plan to play them together for that reason. Marrying Lee’s cultured, controlled passing to Edwards’ energy and tenacity would tick most boxes when it comes to crucial midfield ingredients. Edwards is the closest in style to Joaquim Adao and could assume the holding role from the departed Sion loanee. Arnaud Djoum [once fit after an Achilles injury], Don Cowie, Ross Callachan and Harry Cochrane give plenty other options.
The Northern Irish teenager Bobby Burns is the signing who carries the lowest profile, but he is an exciting prospect across the Irish Sea.
Eight goals in 46 appearances for Glenavon saw Hearts pay a five-figure fee to bring him to Scotland.
At 18, Burns already has notable top-flight experience and can play as a second striker or on the left of midfield. He has also operated at left-back, although his pace and attacking instinct make him a more useful weapon further forward.
Jake Mulraney, the former Inverness winger, will start as a squad player like Burns. The 22-year-old possesses searing pace which Levein wants to harness at Riccarton. If he can find consistent level of performance, Mulraney is capable of becoming a regular for Hearts.
Strikers were thin on the ground during the second half of the season, hence early summer deals for Steven MacLean and Uche Ikpeazu. The former is well known from his time at St Johnstone, where he scored in their 2014 Scottish Cup final victory over Dundee United.
He is 36 in August and does not play on synthetic surfaces, but Levein has stated he is unconcerned. He wants MacLean for his link-up play, intelligence and influence on young players.
Ikpeazu seems something of an enigma, according to those who watched him in England’s League Two with Cambridge United. Strength and running power are among his strengths and Levein feels he can develop in Scotland given he is only 23