January promises to be a critical month for Hearts as manager Craig Levein battles with other clubs to sign a left-back, a winger and a creative midfielder. And that’s only for starters.
Levein explained the difficulties of trying to recruit during the winter transfer window when players are under contract and clubs reluctant to sell. Trying to reinforce a Hearts squad which needs attention fairly urgently is an unenviable task.
“It’s not like going to the shops,” said Levein. “January is harder than the summer because of the short nature. If six people want the same player, then the price goes up both to buy or pay salaries. You can’t always say you fancy someone and he’s the one you’re going to get.
“Then the guy scores four goals between now and January and he was the one you were going to get but no longer is. It happens all the time and things change very quickly. You end up with five or six players that you’re after and, on a bad day, you could lose four of them just through circumstances.
“My experience of bringing players in during both windows has been good. Identifying what you need is really important, that’s something that’s been done but we might not be able to get exactly what we’re looking for.
“Generally, when the January window is open you’re looking at players who are currently playing. When the window closes and there are still players available who haven’t been playing, then that becomes a bigger risk. For us in January, I would like to try and minimise any risk at possible. That would be my hope. Again, it does not always work like that.”
Irish winger Jake Mulraney has been training with Hearts despite being contracted to Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Despite the difficulties of trying to lure players at this time of year, Levein insisted he would rather be managing than sitting in the background in his other role as Hearts’ director of football.
“I feel I can help. I feel up to the winter break and through January I can help because I have very clear ideas of what we need to add to the squad in January. That, again, is something my experience can help with.”
That doesn’t mean he finds life in the technical area easy. Levein was ordered to the stand by referee Bobby Madden during last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Hamilton at Tynecastle Park. He felt aggrieved at several decisions and struggled to contain his anger.
“It’s completely different. When you’re down on the touchline, even perceived injustices in the heat of the battle are infuriating. It’s not the same when you’re not bearing the direct responsibility, and when you do when you feel that harder than other people do.”
Hearts haven’t sampled victory for six matches, dating back to October 21. Levein is determined to retain belief ahead of this afternoon’s Ladbrokes Premiership match with Motherwell at Tynecastle Park.
“We’re not happy with the way things are, that’s not a secret,” he said. “The moment where you think the world is against us and nothing is going right, and you start talking and thinking that way then it becomes as bigger problem. We keep doing what we’re doing and things will turn.”
The lack of results, plus perceived injustices and criticism from outwith Tynecastle have conspired to motivate the manager and his players. Their resilience is likely to be tested further in the coming weeks.
“Yeah, and I think the players have been like that anyway. We were down to ten men last week for an hour against a Hamilton team which beat Rangers at Ibrox a fortnight previously. I think we have got that, we have resilience about us. We maybe need just a little bit of quality and also to be a bit calmer at times. It’s hard to push the players to work hard and be aggressive and at the same time have that calmness. So we don’t have both those things yet, but we’ll get there.”