Ann Budge says Hearts' budget has shrunk but signings will continue as she eyes North American project

Club owner to back manager Robbie Neilson’s plans
Hearts owner Ann Budge is looking forward.Hearts owner Ann Budge is looking forward.
Hearts owner Ann Budge is looking forward.

Hearts owner Ann Budge is confident of meeting manager Robbie Neilson’s needs in the transfer market despite the club’s reduced budget.

The first-team squad is being decreased in size with established names like Sean Clare, Conor Washington and Uche Ikpeazu already moved on following relegation to the Scottish Championship.

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Pruning will continue to enable Neilson to recruit the talent he wants. He has already signed goalkeepers Craig Gordon and Ross Stewart, plus winger Jordan Roberts.

He is still seeking more wide players, a central midfielder and potentially a striker. Budge explained that funds should be there to accommodate the recruitment plans for a tilt at automatic promotion back to the Premiership.

“We all acknowledged that we had to trim the team, there was no question about that,” she told the Hearts website. “We have made good strides in that direction.

“We want players who want to be here, who are happy to accept the challenge of playing in the Championship.

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“If there are players who decide they would rather move on then that’s the approach we’ve taken. We are being as helpful as we can be. A few players have moved on.

“I asked Robbie: ‘What do you think we need to do with the team?’ He told me which positions he felt we needed to strengthen so, yes, we should be able to fulfil Robbie’s needs.

“He knows our budget has got to go down from where it was but I think we can still address everything he needs.”

Budge also revealed she will progress plans to grow Hearts as a brand outwith the United Kingdom and specifically in North America.

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She appointed the former Scottish FA official Andrew McKinlay as chief executive to ease her daily workload.

“I hope I might get some of my days back from time to time,” she smiled. “With everything that’s happened in the last few months, we’ve got a bit of ground to make up.

“But we need to remain focused on our overall objectives – being successful. I’ve already mentioned Europe.

“We had opened one or two other initiatives in terms of increasing our brand awareness outside the UK, trying to build partnerships specifically in North America.

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“All of these things need to come back on the agenda again. My involvement will be trying to open up some of these things.

“The redevelopment of the main stand, for example. We were geared up to start the refit of the one remaining floor and we’ve had to put that on hold.

“The other thing that will be coming up is the transition of the majority shareholding [to Foundation of Hearts]. That would have happened had we not had lockdown.

“At an appropriate time, it will happen, and to all intents and purposes it has. We have actually, for the last six years, been a fan-owned club.

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“Getting out of what’s happened in the last few months, I think it’s good to think of it as a new era and a new start.”

Admitting she was “horrified” and “gobsmacked” by last week’s order to stop training from the SFA/SPFL Joint Response Group, Budge said she still cannot understand the decision.

It was the latest blow to Hearts on the back of enforced relegation and unsuccessful legal appeal after coronavirus halted last season early.

However, the Edinburgh businesswoman again reiterated her gratitude to supporters. They have bought more than 11,000 season tickets despite no official confirmation of when crowds will be allowed inside stadiums.

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“You feel we are constantly saying we are blown away. You think they can do no more and then they excel themselves. Without the support of our fans, I wouldn’t be sitting here confidently looking ahead,” said Budge.

“They have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that being a fan-owned club can work. They step up every time. Every time we’ve had a challenge over the last six years we’ve had a challenge, they’ve been there.

“I just can’t thank them enough. It’s not enough to say but I don’t know what else I can say. They will get what we set out for – we will be the largest fan-owned club. I think we’ve proved we can make it a success because of their backing.”

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