Data shows Hearts have signed Blair Spittal entering the peak of his career

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The midfielder could become an integral part of the team at Tynecastle

Putting in the groundwork was never a problem for Blair Spittal. His CV reads: Queen’s Park, Dundee United, Partick Thistle, Ross County, Motherwell and now Hearts. The midfielder is a seasoned Scottish football veteran at the age of 28, and indications are that he is just approaching his peak years.

Six goals and seven assists for Motherwell during season 2022/23 was followed by an impressive 13 goals and 11 assists last season at Fir Park. Spittal’s age and output suggest Hearts have signed a player in his absolute prime for the princely sum of nothing. It looks like an astute piece of business. He sits at the club’s pre-season training base discussing the very topic of whether he is beginning the best period of his career.

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“Potentially. I feel ready now to make that step,” he said. “It is no secret it is a massive club I am joining with big expectations. I had a good couple of years back in the league and will look to build on it this year and beyond. Coming in, I want to establish myself first and foremost, try to get in the team. It's a team that are used to winning last year. It will be a tough job at first but hopefully when I get my chance I take it.”

Last year was undoubtedly his finest to date. It will be a challenge to better those numbers in a maroon shirt after Spittal’s efforts in claret and amber, but he is determined for momentum to continue. “I think the last two have been good in terms of consistency of performance. Last year I had a number of goals and assists. The position I play in, that's what you are judged on. It's been the most productive in terms of numbers, complemented by the players I played with as well. Big Theo [Bair] had a great season as well, he was big for us. I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was a really good season.”

Perhaps something for the Hearts head coach Steven Naismith to bear in mind is that Spittal’s consistency was partly down to a sustained run in the No.10 role for Motherwell. “I think the responsibility definitely helped,” said the player. “There was fluidity in the position I played in. The manager gave us that freedom, it allowed the two advanced midfielders to go and find the ball.

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“As soon as we got our heads up the boys would make runs and we would try to pick them out. It was thoroughly enjoyable and it was a challenge the manager put toward us having lost Kev [Van Veen] when he went to Groningen. It was a big chunk of goals we lost so there was a lot of onus on boys to try and chip in. Thankfully, we managed to do that.”

A notable feature of Spittal’s campaign were his rasping shots from outside the penalty area. A few of those would be welcome at Tynecastle. “Sometimes when your luck's in, your luck's in! It was something we will have to deal with,” he said. “The manager stressed that a number of times last season, a lot of teams coming to Tynecastle to try and frustrate the team. It was definitely an aim when I was at Motherwell, to try and frustrate. It is good to have that ability and we have a number of players in the squad who can do that. If the chance arises, I will definitely take a pop that's for sure.

“Over the last few seasons, I have become more central in my position. Being quite versatile, I've played a number of positions but the last couple of seasons it has been in the middle of the park I've played. I've thoroughly enjoyed that, to go and find the ball. When you play wide sometimes the ball isn't on your side of the park and it can be quite frustrating. I've definitely enjoyed the position I have played.”

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Hearts have welcomed Spittal and six other summer signings to their squad. The Tenerife camp was intense but beneficial for the players ahead of the 2024/25 campaign. They face a punishing schedule of league, cup and European ties over the coming months. “Aye, it's been good,” agreed Spittal. “It's been tough but enjoyable at the same time. Gone are the days when you are just running all the time in pre-season but the manager has made sure we've got plenty of work in to be ready for these games coming in.

“It's always different coming to a new club. Expectations when you come here and the players as well. I had a good two years at Motherwell, thoroughly enjoyed it and I can't speak highly enough of the club. It's time to enjoy my time at Hearts and I can't wait to get started.

“When I was younger, I was a wee bit nervous but the older you get it is a lot easier to settle into changing rooms than you think. Everyone kind of prepares you as if it is the first day at school again, but it's alright and helps having known a few of the boys just from playing against them. I played with Penners [James Penrice] at Thistle so there is already a friendly face there you know. The easing in process has been fairly straightforward so far. It's been good.”

Make no mistake, the competition for places this season will be the strongest Spittal has ever known. Likewise many other Hearts players. “Yes, 100 per cent. When you do get the chance you have to be on it. The competition for places is there,” he acknowledged. “I expected that coming in. I'm coming into a team that is used to winning last year. It's all about making sure I come in and establish myself. When I do get the opportunity I have got to try and take it and hope for the best. 

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“The size of the club sold me. As soon as I heard that Hearts were interested I then spoke to the manager. I had a lengthy conversation with him and what his plans were for it. I knew as soon as I spoke to him I wanted to come here. I know it is a massive club. I have played for some good clubs in my career but this is definitely the biggest. I just feel I am ready for this step.”

So far, there has been no initiation ceremony within the dressing room. No singing in front of team-mates, nothing. “I haven’t had to do that yet. Unless I get told I need to do it, I won't be putting my hand up for sure,” smiled Spittal. “There are a few big characters. I've been paired with Frankie for our competition. It has been pretty easy to find out some stuff about him. We seem to be doing alright in it which has been good.”

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