Armand Gnanduillet speaks on his Hearts future and contract thoughts as he prepares for big demands in months ahead
Six months in Edinburgh gave Armand Gnanduillet a sufficient bedding-in period. As Hearts balance dual aspirations in league and cup competitions, he knows what to expect with demands rising.
There is no reason to feel frightened. When you stand 6ft 4ins tall, intimidation isn’t an emotion you experience too often. Gnanduillet returns from injury tonight at Stirling Albion to join Hearts’ Premier Sports Cup campaign and is also motivated by stepping up to the Premiership as a Championship winner.
He has plenty to contend with over the next 12 months. The 29-year-old’s contract expires next summer and how he adapts to a higher level will have a major bearing on whether an extension is offered. The future remains unknown for now, something else which doesn’t unduly faze the striker.
“I guess if I do well I will have the opportunity to stay. If I’m not doing things right then the club will maybe want to get someone else. That’s normal. I need to stay professional and do what I do,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“I am a striker. You are not asking me to save the ball on the line or tackle in defence, you are asking me to score. My last two years at Blackpool were magnificent, the best of my career in terms of numbers.
“Here is similar to England so I am not lost on the field. I know I will get chances to score with my feet and my head. Only God knows but I will not be unhappy to stay in Scotland.”
Exciting new system
A tight thigh has been carefully managed over the last ten days to ensure Gnanduillet is not overworked or likely to suffer a longer-term absence. Hearts’ new 3-4-3 system is up and running and he is eager to get involved competitively.
Who wouldn’t be as such an imposing figure prowling the penalty area awaiting crosses from wingers on either side?
“You know I’m quite big and physical. In the box, I’m just asking for people to cross the ball,” he said. “This formation is not easy because you need the players, and they must understand when to press, step back or go forward.
“Since we were playing 3-4-3 [in pre-season], I have scored goals and I feel good. Now I want to do it in the league and cup. It’s an exciting formation for me. If the ball is out wide, I know I have to be in front and try to score.”
The thigh problem which precluded him from Premier Sports Cup victories over Peterhead and Cove Rangers has subsided. Gnanduillet now has Stirling in his sights, followed by Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the final Group A match on Sunday. Then it's Celtic on the Premiership’s opening weekend.
“I trained last week but the manager and staff wanted to take care of me because I had a little injury. Right now I’m feeling good so hopefully tonight I will get some minutes. When you are sat in the stand, you can’t do anything and it’s hard to take.
“I got time to work in the gym and on the training field. I think it was a good choice so now I want to help the team and score goals. I’m just waiting for my chance. I’m excited to play in the Premiership. I used to watch Celtic and Rangers on TV and now I can play against teams like this.
“It’s another step and a chance to show people what I can do. When I came to Hearts in January, I wasn’t fully fit. It took time but I had a good half-season – we finished champions, I scored goals and gave assists. I had some good games and some not very good.
“I always work hard but now I will have to step up my level in training and games to be ready every week. I know myself. I’m 29 years old, I know what I need to do. Fans always want to see someone work very hard, even if they miss a pass or miss chances. It’s more important what you do after that.
“Scottish people are very demanding of one another. They push you to work hard and I like that. I think the fans want me to repeat what I did last season against some top sides. That’s what I’m waiting for as well.”
A Hearts victory at Forthbank this evening will secure a spot in the knockout phase of the League Cup, a trophy the Edinburgh club have not won for 59 years. The wait is far longer than should be reasonably expected for a club of such stature.
Gnanduillet is fully conscious of the time lapsed since his club celebrated success in this tournament. Free of injury, he knows there is an opportunity to make a significant impact in Scotland and achieve what would be a career highlight.
“I am a winner. I really hate losing,” he explained. “I think we have the players, staff and fans to go very far in this cup. If we win tonight we can qualify for the next round, then it is just four games until the final. Anything can happen. I truly believe we can do something this year.
“I travelled a lot with football – France, England, Turkey, South Africa, Scotland. I’m not scared to try a new league. Every time, I want to win and score goals. This is no different.”