Rangers’ summer interest in signing Christophe Berra was instantly rebuffed by the player, who revealed how he was determined to return to formative club Hearts.
He explained today that he had no intention of moving to Ibrox or anywhere else because he planned all along to end his career back at Tynecastle.
Berra was reinstated as captain on a three-year Hearts contract in May after agreeing his departure from Ipswich Town. Rangers enquired about a potential switch to Glasgow when it became clear the defender wanted to continue his career in Scotland to be closer to his daughter. Berra, though, already had his mind made up.
“There had been mention [of Rangers] to my agent but I was always wanting to come back to Hearts. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else,” he told the Evening News. “Hearts is where I started my career and this is where I want to finish it. That was always in my mind. Speak to my parents and they’ll tell you I was always wanting to go back to Hearts. I’m glad to be back here and I’m looking forward to the future. Hopefully there are two or three successful seasons ahead.”
Rangers’ current turmoil seems to indicate a pretty sensible decision on the part of the 32-year-old, although Hearts have not been without their own troubles this season. They now appear more settled with Craig Levein installed as manager despite Tuesday night’s deflating defeat against city neighbours Hibs at Easter Road.
Rangers, in contrast, face Hearts at BT Murrayfield tomorrow under mounting pressure with only three wins from their last seven matches in all competitions. Manager Pedro Caixinha lost his job yesterday after overseeing the malaise, most recently the concession of a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with the Premiership’s bottom club Kilmarnock on Wednesday night.
Banishing key players like Kenny Miller and Lee Wallace from the squad hasn’t helped the Portuguese coach. He was relieved of his duties after an emergency board meeting yesterday and youth coach Graeme Murty takes temporary charge for the trip to Edinburgh.
“Rangers have got suspensions and injuries like ourselves,” Berra pointed out. “They spent a lot of money over the summer and they still have a good squad, but it’s about what you do when you cross that white line. We’re a work in progress as well and, at the moment, Rangers are under a lot of pressure with the situation with the manager. We need to make sure we go out and perform and get over Tuesday night.
“It will take strong characters but you have to move on. Football is a cut-throat business. You win some and you lose some, you’ve just got to be thick-skinned and get on with it. No matter what team Rangers put out, it will still be a good team.
“Let’s be honest, we’re not at the point where we can expect to win every game. We’re building and, hopefully, getting better. It’s going to be a massive game with a big crowd. Rangers are bringing a big support as well so there’s a lot to play for. It’s all about what we do in that 90-minute period.”
More than 14,000 away fans will attend Murrayfield after the Ibrox club sold out their increased allocation for the match. Tynecastle remains unavailable due to redevelopment work on the main stand and the greater capacity at the home of Scottish Rugby will ensure a vervid atmosphere for one of the marquee fixtures on the Scottish football calendar.
It is occasions like these Berra often yearned for despite his years in England’s Premier League and Championship.
“Playing against Hibs and the Glasgow clubs are always big games. The atmosphere is a bit more tense and the fans are up for it more,” he said. “As players, you sense that and you get a bit of extra adrenalin pumping through. This is a game you want to be involved in. It’s going to be a good occasion and the only way we can make it a great occasion is by getting three points. That’s all that matters.
“We’ve had a tough run of away games. Murrayfield, technically, is away from home as well. We’ve won one game there and drawn one so hopefully we can keep that form up at our so-called home.”
Focus is on victory but Berra joined his manager in underlining the need for Hearts to play better football. Their Edinburgh derby defeat was conspicuous by the number of long balls and wayward passes from players in maroon. Midfielder Harry Cochrane has a strong chance of starting against Rangers despite being only 16 years old. He added a touch of quality in the middle of the pitch when he came on as a half-time substitute against Hibs.
“It’s our job to exploit anything but I think the whole team have to create more chances,” insisted Berra. “We want to be on the front foot a bit more and that starts from the back. There is a lot of room for improvement and hopefully that starts on Saturday.
“We’ve got a young squad, with a lot of youth players getting a chance because of injuries. It’s up to them to step up to the plate and take their opportunities. They’ve got talent and it’s about producing on the big stage like this one.”
It would be premature to judge Levein’s team at this moment given the director of football has been back in the dugout for just seven matches. Hearts have won three, drawn two and lost two of those fixtures. Within Riccarton, there is a feeling that momentum hasn’t really started building yet.
Levein cannot improve his squad until the January transfer window opens and must continue with those in situ for now. Playing every league match away from Tynecastle has been a hindrance but Hearts are due to return there next month, provided the new main stand is ready. Like the team, it remains a work in progress.
“There is a lot to come and we have a lot of improvement to come within our squad, said Berra.
“We’re not going to get too down about losing the derby. We’re obviously gutted to lose against Hibs, just like any game when you get beat, but it’s worse when it’s your local rivals. Neil Lennon said that was the best Hibs have played and we have a lot to improve on, yet in the end we only lost 1-0.
“We have a long way to go. We will get better.”