Christophe Berra suspects he was made Hearts captain at 22, in part, to help the club sell him for a decent fee.
Hearts made him the youngest captain in the Scottish Premier League at the time following Craig Gordon’s departure to Sunderland for a record £9million fee.
He led the Jambos for the best part of two years before Wolves had two bids rejected, Hearts finally accepting around £2.5million on the last day of the 2009 January transfer window.
Nine years, one promotion to the Premier League, a transfer to Ipswich and 35 Scotland caps later, Berra is back where it all started to don the armband once more. This time, however, he knows he takes on the role solely based on his ability as a leader, rather than adding any further sell-on value.
“It definitely feels different,” said Berra. “There’s more responsibility now. I was younger then, and it was more the point of making me captain to maybe sell me for more money.
“Now I’ve come back, hopefully I’ll finish my career here. I’ll take on a lot of responsibility on and off the pitch. It’s been enjoyable since I’ve come back – the boys have been really good. It’s a good changing room that we’ve added some really good new recruits to and hopefully it’s going to be a good season.
“Putting the armband back on has been a good experience. I always wanted to come back and to be captain is a bonus really.”
Part of Berra’s role, especially during last week’s training camp in Ireland, is passing on his knowledge, experience and a sharp word when required to the younger members of Ian Cathro’s squad.
Jamie Brandon, Rory Currie and most notably Harry Cochrane all travelled and were involved in both friendlies against St Patrick’s Athletic and Linfield respectively.
Cochrane, the youngest at 16, scored his first senior goal and turned in a man-of-the-match performance against the Northern Irish champions at Windsor Park. Berra revealed it didn’t take long to realise Hearts have a player of real potential on their hands.
“He came on against Livingston and for 20 minutes he was unbelievable,” raved the skipper. “He then came to Ireland as a young boy and he’s obviously still got a lot to learn. That talent is there though – he maybe needs to beef up a little bit, but he’s a nice kid as well. He’s really down to earth. He’s still on the ground staff and he’s always doing his jobs first like blowing up the ball, so he’s well grounded as has a good attitude. Hopefully if he keeps on developing he can go far.
“I do make a point of talking to the young kids on trips like this. I said to Harry you just need to watch when you’re shielding the ball as there’s a lot of men out there who are stronger than him, but he’s got a good touch. He shields it well – he’s maybe going to get caught on the ball now and then, but it’s a learning experience. As I said, he’s 16 and he’ll mistakes throughout his career and learn from them.
“He’s made a good start, and I know under this manager, Austin and Foxy, he’ll only get better because they’re good coaches and they’ll be good for him.”
Having cut his teeth alongside a strong character in Steven Pressley at Tynecastle, Berra knows young players like Cochrane will need some tough love as well as the kid gloves approach from time to time. “Even when he doesn’t make mistakes – I do moan on the pitch a lot – you’ve probably heard that on Saturday!” laughed the 32-year-old. “That’s just part and parcel of it and keeps everyone on their toes. Also there’s the responsibility of being captain just to get the boys going and make sure they don’t take their foot off the gas.”
It is hoped that Berra can provide the same type of influence and guidance he got from Pressley to John Souttar. The Scotland Uunder-21 internationalist is being coaxed back to fitness after rupturing his Achilles at Celtic Park in January and is expected to eventually slot in to the centre of a back-three alongside his captain and Aaron Hughes.
“He’s only joined in bits of training so far, but yeah, I’ve heard a lot of good things about him,” explained Berra. “He’s just got to get back from his injury but he’s making good progress. I know all the boys are looking forward to getting him back. He’s a quality player and we want as many quality players in the squad as possible. Hopefully he’s back to full match fitness soon and carries on from where he left off.
“It’s hard to say he’s definitely going to play for Scotland but certainly has the potential to do it. It’s all about developing and not stagnating. If players, especially at centre half, keep learning from their mistakes and experience, then you’ve got a good chance.”
Berra also sees something in Jordan McGhee, who became something of a forgotten man after a year-long loan to Middleborough.
“He’s another one who’s come in and had a good pre-season,” said Berra. “He’s shown a good attitude, he’s good round the changing room and I don’t have a bad word to say about him. He’s a good lad and he’s obviously got a lot of ability as well. As to how long he stays, that’s down to the manager to make his judgement and see where we go from there.”
Following Friday’s friendly against Newcastle at Tynecastle, Hearts begin competitive action away to Elgin City in the Betfred Cup group stages. It’s a competition Berra feels the club should be targeting.
“We want to win the group first and foremost and put some good performances in,” he stated. “A club the size of ours, we want to be competing in the latter stages of the cups, and that’s our aim for this season – it’s what the fans deserve.”