The hype surrounding David Vanecek hype has grown steadily ever since the Czech agreed a pre-contract with Hearts last summer.
The player himself helped fuel it with a steady flow of Instagram posts about his impending move to Edinburgh. Craig Levein also added to the sense of anticipation by referring regularly in media briefings to how much he was looking forward to getting Vanecek in to fill the void left in attack following the injury sustained by Uche Ikpeazu.
With the Czech striker having been a regular for previous club Teplice in the first half of the season, the manager was clearly hopeful that, after a few weeks of mid-season break to recharge his batteries, he would be ready to hit the ground running upon arrival at Tynecastle this month.
It hasn’t transpired this way, however, with a situation arising whereby Vanecek has been underwhelming in his opening matches, substituted after 32 minutes of his second outing and subsequently criticised by Levein, who described his display in Wednesday’s defeat by Dundee as “rubbish”.
The manager has been questioned by some pundits for taking such a publicly outspoken stance against his new acquisition, but Levein has offered more context to the situation. In short, he feels Vanecek neglected his duties to his new club by not doing any work to keep himself ticking over between playing his last game for Teplice at the end of November and joining up with Hearts some five weeks later.
“This situation is clear for me,” said the manager. “If he hadn’t been sending all these social media messages out and bigging himself up so that supporters expect a performance up here, for somebody who has not trained for five weeks, then I would have had more sympathy. But he has set himself up, and he knows that.”
Levein had a frank conversation with Vanecek on Thursday and is hopeful of a positive response from the Czech, who has acknowledged that he hasn’t arrived in Edinburgh in a condition that allows him to operate at the required level.
“I was honest, and I believe any relationship needs to start with honesty,” said Levein. “There is no point in me fudging around the issue. What has happened is: David’s season finished and he has gone on holiday for four weeks – maybe longer, in his head. He has switched off altogether and not done anything. That is evident and I am annoyed about that, and I’ve told him that personally.
“I sat down with him on Thursday and showed him all the clips from the game, showed him all his crap on social media that he was sending to Hearts supporters saying ‘I’m coming to score ten goals’ and all that. And, basically, he’s not done anything fitness-wise for four or five weeks. I’m better telling him that now than pussy-footing around. He needs to know I’m unhappy about the way he has approached this. So he is apologetic, says he will do extra training and I’m hopeful this is the kick up the backside he needs.
“He knows where he is and he knows what he’s got to do. He agreed with everything and was very apologetic. He is going to work really hard to get himself up to full speed. I don’t want our supporters to think that’s the best he can do (against Livingston and Dundee). But having seen all the social media messages, they have seen a couple of performances from him that don’t match up to the hype. So I need to dampen that enthusiasm to give him time to get himself to the place he needs to get to.
“Also, he owes the supporters as well. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than it is to do it the other way round. Every time.”
Levein has no regrets about going public with his criticism of his new signing on Wednesday. “I think it’s important that he knows, and the supporters know, where we are,” he said. “And that’s been taken care of. As far as I’m concerned, it’s now just about him getting fit and I’m very positive that he’s taking that on board.
“I don’t know him that well. We had conversations when he came in the summer. We spoke about how I see him playing for the team, as a target man holding the ball up, scoring from crosses. That’s his game but he hasn’t done it particularly well because of the circumstances. Everybody has a different way of managing these things. Some people don’t like to speak publicly. But if the thing has been played out in public, which it has been, on social media, then I think it’s important that everybody understands.
“Don’t judge him just now. Don’t believe what you’ve read. You have to wait until he gets himself fit.
“I just think it was a little bit silly because he was over-promising. You are better coming in quietly and making an impact than talking about what you are going to do. Basically, I’ve explained why I have done this publicly and I 100 per cent believe it is the right thing to do because it was played out in public before this.”
Despite his exasperation with Vanecek, Levein is prepared to start him against St Johnstone today. The manager knows he won’t get an intense 90-minute performance from the big target man but is hopeful that he can offer enough to help his team at least seize the initiative in the game.
“He will be involved,” said Levein. “If I can get him focused now, I might get an hour out of him. I might get 45 minutes out of him.
“He will just burst himself for the period of time that he can do it, rather than doing what he has been doing for the last two games, which is trying to pace himself because he knows he is not in a place where he can last 90 minutes.”