Christophe Berra still has a lot to offer Hearts, says Steven Pressley
Robbie Neilson's return as manager has already uplifted the Hearts community. The optimism won't be lost on Christophe Berra as he tries to restart his Tynecastle career and reclaim what was once an automatic starting place in the team.
Daniel Stendel, Neilson's predecessor, stripped Berra of the captaincy in January and left him free to leave. He joined Dundee on loan but is now preparing to re-establish himself back at base with 12 months left on his Hearts contract.
Neilson's appointment offers plenty cause for enthusiasm. The two formed half of the Hearts back four many years ago and know each other well, the new manager already stating that Berra will be an influential member of his squad.
The defender may be 35 but fitness and professionalism have never been an issue, nor has the drive to continue performing at the highest level possible.
Whether Hearts operate in the Championship or Premiership next season depends on the outcome of a legal appeal against their relegation from last term.
It is worth noting that Berra made six Championship appearances for Dundee before coronavirus halted the 2019/20 campaign in March. Only one goal was conceded during that time. He is entitled to feel his Premiership sell-by date is not yet upon him either.
“He did a wonderful job at Dundee and I know for sure that they would love to have kept him. If Hearts are in the Championship, Christophe will be an absolute star at that level,” said Steven Pressley, former captain of the Tynecastle side and another member of that back line alongside Neilson and Berra.
“However, I also think he has a lot to offer even in the Premiership. I know how Robbie works and he will get the players to a really high level of fitness. On the back of that, I’m sure you will see a different Christophe Berra.”
Stendel’s decision to demote the player so abruptly left him wondering what the future held as he headed off to train with the reserves at Riccarton. The move to Dundee kept him playing at a stage in his career when he cannot afford to be idle.
Had the German remained in situ at Hearts, Berra would almost certainly have been looking for another club this summer. Or at least another loan move for the season ahead.
“Hindsight is a great thing. You make decisions as a manager which you think are right. Sometimes you are proven wrong but you go with what you believe in. Daniel made that decision,” added Pressley.
Now he will sense the chance for rejuvenation under Neilson. Berra will be ready when pre-season training commences next month and may well have welcomed the extended rest after a punishing couple of years.
A torn hamstring in August 2018 sidelined him for four months and he returned by going straight into a demanding league match against Rangers in December that year. As captain, easing himself back in gradually was difficult with so much responsibility on his shoulders.
"People need to remember that Christophe picked up numerous injuries over a period of time and was rushed back into the team because of his influence, in my opinion, before he was really fully fit again,” said Pressley.
“Because he is that type of character, he put himself out there and then he is immediately judged. Nobody considers that you aren’t quite fit or at your maximum. I think Christophe needs to be playing at his maximum.
“I think Christophe still has a lot to offer in football. He is a wonderful professional, a really good person and a brilliant athlete.”
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