The Tynecastle side enjoyed a tremendously fruitful season back in the top flight of Scottish football following their 2020 demotion. Robbie Neilson’s side romped to third place and made the Scottish Cup final.
As reward for their efforts, Hearts will play in at least eight European games next season. They’ll enter at the play-off round of the Europa League. Even if they’re not successful they’ll still drop into the group stages of the Europa League Conference.
Stopping short of replicating Vladimir Romanov’s infamous “Champions League winners” comment from almost two decades ago, Budge insists there’s nothing wrong with realistic ambitions for growing Hearts as a club.
“Until now, we have been fixing the infrastructure and the underlying business issues while trying to keep the football going,” Ann Budge told our sister paper The Scotsman. “Whereas now we can focus on the number one priority which is how we help the men’s and the women’s first teams really succeed and reach heights we’ve not done for a long time. I am really excited about that.
“We still have to take a long-term view but our goal is different. We have come such a long way and it is no longer about survival, as a club, or survival in terms of staying in the Premiership or even the top six. These are still fundamentals but our goal is to be successful and play consistently at a European level. We want to become a big club in Europe.
“If I had said that back in 2014, I would have sounded a bit like Mr Romanov but we are in a different position now. I’m not saying that in a couple of years time we will be number one but we can be successful without setting unrealistic goals.”
Hearts are looking add three net players to last season’s unit. The Jam Tarts rolled with one of the smallest squads in the Premiership as they prioritised quality over quantity. While they’ll continue with such a plan next term, Budge stressed the need to bulk up the squad a little bit more.
“We have to set the bar high and recognise that if we want to play in Europe, in the group stages and, hopefully, longer, we have to build a team that has genuine capability of playing at that level,” she said.
“Ok, maybe, from time to time things will go wrong but if we want to keep that going then we have to raise the calibre and look at both the quality and the quantity.
“Look at Rangers, they had those big games in Europe but it didn’t weaken them because they have such a big squad. They almost have two starting XIs and we have got to gradually build up to that without going overboard.
“We have got to be careful and make sure we continue to cut our cloth appropriately but we are in the very fortunate position that all the money we get from our football success will go back into the football department. That is a position I never thought we would be in a few years ago!”