Christophe Berra issued a firm warning to his Hearts team-mates ahead of their trip to Ibrox, insisting: “Don’t be fooled by Rangers’ problems.”
As captain of the Glasgow club’s next opponents, he monitored this week’s events keenly but is adamant Hearts cannot be lulled into a false sense of security on Sunday.
Disorder reigns at Rangers after a 4-0 Scottish Cup semi-final humiliation by rivals Celtic. Captain Lee Wallace and striker Kenny Miller have been suspended for a fallout with manager Graeme Murty. The actions of others like Andy Halliday and Daniel Candeias show further contempt at a club where owner Dave King is too often conspicuous by his absence.
Berra, 33, will lead his colleagues into the eye of the storm this weekend. Hearts have little to play for other than pride as the Premiership’s top-six fixtures begin. However, Rangers are in an intense fight for second place with Aberdeen and Hibs. They may not have their troubles to seek but Berra insists Hearts should not be deceived.
“It’s either going to galvanise them – in the sense that they want to show people, ‘what’s all the fuss about, we’re back to normal’ – or it could go the other way,” said the Scotland defender, a former team-mate of both Wallace and Miller. “Rangers fans will back their team and, if they get off to a good start, it will be a tough day for us. Rangers still have a lot to play for. They’re after second place and they’re in a good position.
“Maybe what has kicked all this off was Rangers’ previous game against Celtic. They ran them really close that day, lost 3-2 and maybe should’ve won because they missed a few chances. I think people were then expecting the semi-final to be a tight game but Celtic came out and steamrollered them. Then there are reports of Morelos and Docherty having a fight in the tunnel, Halliday shouting at a fan when he gets taken off, Candeias walking up the tunnel, and then the other issues with Lee Wallace and Kenny Miller.
“All of that has compounded everything into one big storm, really. You know what it’s like in Scotland. The majority of the headlines on the back pages of the papers are about Celtic and Rangers, so it just compounds everything. However, Rangers still have second place to play for. I’m sure they’re all strong characters who will want to go out on Sunday and perform to put things right.”
Either way, Hearts won’t be there to show sympathy. “Definitely not. We’ll be going there to get a result no matter what. We lost 2-0 there last time and it could’ve been three or four. We need to improve on that and find a way to be better away from home. We drew 0-0 at Ibrox at the start of the season, which isn’t a bad result.
“Don’t be fooled into thinking Rangers are in disarray so we’re going to go there and win easily. Far from it. We will still be underdogs, no doubt. We aren’t daft. What’s going on could galvanise Rangers. Hopefully it works in our favour but we aren’t naive. We know this will be a tough game and we’ll need to be at our maximum to get anything.”
The Edinburgh side haven’t been without turmoil of their own this season, albeit not on the same scale as Rangers. Berra returned to his formative club last summer expecting more tranquility than the Vladimir Romanov era he left in 2009. There has been more upheaval than expected due to three different managers since last July, a new stand and constant injuries throughout the squad.
“It’s been difficult in various ways,” explained the captain. “Playing so many games away from home, including Murrayfield, it’s been tough. We do have positives with youngsters coming through, the new stand and the record at Tynecastle. We need to keep working on those small things. The last five games are about putting in good performances and maybe getting a settled team as well. So there is a lot to play for because we have personal pride at stake. There’s never been a time when I’ve thought: ‘Everyone is hating it.’ Nowhere near it. We’ve just drawn too many games, especially at the start. Our away form needs to improve as well and we know that. We can hopefully do that starting at Ibrox this weekend.”
Berra harbours no regrets over his decision to leave Ipswich Town and return to his native Edinburgh. Ending his career back at Hearts was something he kept at the back of his mind.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’m glad I came back and I’m looking forward to seeing out my career here,” he stated.
“One of the major factors was my daughter but, in my head, I always wanted to come back to Hearts. I saw what was happening with rebuilding at the stadium and it’s a club that wants to progress. Hopefully we’re doing that in small steps. Next season will be massive for us and there will be no excuses. We need to perform.
“Obviously being captain is a great and I’m proud of that. It’s a big responsibility but I love every minute of it. There have been a few high points this season and also a few low points, which is to be expected.
“Getting the monkey off our backs by beating Hibs was a big one, although they have had a good season because the league table doesn’t lie.
“I think the game that probably sticks in everyone’s mind was beating Celtic 4-0 to end their 69-game unbeaten run. That will go down in the history books. It shows what we’re capable of.”