Anthony Brown: Rudi Skacel factor could lift Hearts

Rudi Skacel possesses a lethal left foot. Pic: Ian Rutherford
Rudi Skacel possesses a lethal left foot. Pic: Ian Rutherford
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The prospect of Rudi Skacel returning for a third spell at Tynecastle has most Hearts fans salivating and the outside world simultaneously wondering what the point of such a move would be.

Using up a rare opportunity to make a signing on a 34-year-old who hasn’t kicked a ball for the best part of a year might not, at first glance, look the shrewdest move for a club whose threadbare young squad is already hostage to fitness issues.

For all the gold-dust Skacel has sprinkled on Tynecastle in his two glittering spells at the club, even the most optimistic Hearts supporter would struggle to make a case for the legendary Czech being able to prevent Gary Locke’s embattled team freefalling into the Scottish Championship.

But don’t let it be said that bringing Skacel back to his spiritual home doesn’t have its merits. If Hearts are allowed to do so, the move looks a no-brainer on several levels.

After a couple of unfulfilling spells at Dundee United and Slavia Prague, when he was far from full fitness, Skacel knows his days of looking for a lucrative top-level move are now over. His career is winding down, to the extent where a stint at Alloa Athletic is on the cards if he is unable to get himself fixed up at Hearts. He is evidently braced for a crack at the Scottish Championship and would relish the chance to add to his two Scottish Cup successes at Hearts by leading the club back up to the top flight at the first time of asking.

Such a feat would be no walk in the park for Skacel, however. By the time next season starts, he will be 35. He needs to be reasonably match fit by then and that is why it is in Hearts’ interests to get him signed up as quickly as possible.

Even though he will be some way off optimum form and fitness for the next few months, his presence on the pitch, the subs’ bench and the training fields of Riccarton would have an invaluable galvanising effect on the whole club.

In becoming the only player over 30 in the Hearts squad, he would instantly relieve the strain on the club’s only seasoned professionals, Jamie MacDonald, Jamie Hamill and Ryan Stevenson, assuming the former Ayr player remains at the club. Similarly, the opportunity to play alongside one of the most iconic players in the club’s history is bound to have an uplifting effect on the youngsters at the club, particularly boyhood Hearts fans like Sam Nicholson, Jamie Walker, Billy King and Brad McKay, who would have grown up idolising him.

And then there’s the lift it would give the embattled supporters, who have rallied magnificently to keep the club alive. Their faith is going to be stretched even further over the remaining four months of this demoralising campaign, but the prospect of seeing Skacel back in a maroon jersey would surely be enough to stop some losing interest, while also coaxing others back.

His effect on attendances and merchandise sales alone would probably be enough to cover a pay packet which, in any case, would be modest enough not to break the bank.

There will be those who argue that Hearts should be looking to sign someone slightly younger than Skacel, but their fundamental need at the moment – and for the foreseaable future – is experience to guide the youngsters. They need someone who won’t wilt upon being brought to Hearts in their current beleaguered guise.

Fans are already familiar with his qualities, particularly in the confines of Tynecastle, and, in the probable event that he failed to hit the ground running, they would cut him more slack than a less-proven player they had never heard of, such as James Collins, who has only recently begun to win over sceptical Hibs fans.

Skacel will have to get used to being surrounded by inferior – certainly less-experienced – players than those he worked with before at Hearts, but, if he stays on for the Championship adventure, he will also find that opposition defenders are not as good as those he has previously led a merry dance in Scotland’s top flight. The veteran attacker revels in the role of talisman and it is easy to imagine him thriving as the figurehead of a new-look Hearts side battling to keep pace with Rangers in the Championship.

Fully fit after getting some games under his belt in what remains of the current season, it is surely not unreasonable to assume that Skacel’s cultured left foot would be capable of delivering the thick end of 20 goals in Scotland’s second tier.

Even in their days of wild excess, Hearts had no end of trouble finding a prolific goalscorer. Here they have a ready-made marksman, who was banging in goals for them less than two years ago, waiting to sign on the dotted line in return for relative peanuts.

Assuming the relevant hoops can be jumped through, Hearts have little to lose by returning to the Skacel well. He’s as close as they’ll find to a guarantee of goals.