El Hassnaoui signs three-year deal to lead Hearts attack

Soufian El Hassnaoui, left, playing for Morocco in the 2012 Olympics
Soufian El Hassnaoui, left, playing for Morocco in the 2012 Olympics
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Moroccan striker Soufian El Hassnaoui will lead the Hearts attack next season after signing a three-year contract at Tynecastle.

In a double coup, the Edinburgh club have also re-signed their highly-rated teenage winger Sam Nicholson on a three-year deal.

International clearance was expected to arrive today for El Hassnaoui, who spent last season with Sparta Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He is a 24-year-old Dutch-born Moroccan who can play centre-forward or as a second striker. He joins midfielder Morgaro Gomis and striker James Keatings as Hearts’ first signings since emerging from administration.

Head coach Robbie Neilson explained how he wants El Hassnaoui to realise his full potential in Edinburgh. “Soufian’s a player we see talent in. We can see his desire,” said Neilson. “We spoke to him to get an idea of what he’s like and we spoke to some people in Holland who knew him and played against him, and all the reports were good. It’s another development opportunity for us. We want to get him in and progress him.

“The first conversation we had we told him he’s coming in here to develop but also to help us develop the young boys. He was brought up in the Dutch system so he’s got a very good tactical knowledge of the game and he understands the game. He can definitely help our younger players to progress as well.

“He can play up front on his own, he can play with a partner or he can play behind the striker. He’s very versatile and he’s got a lot of talent. He’s a good age as well. He’s still got ambition to move on to a higher level, which is what we need; guys that are going to come in and develop themselves, develop the youngsters and develop the club.”

Retaining Nicholson is regarded as one of Hearts’ most important pieces of business this summer. After securing the winger on a long-term contract, director of football Craig Levein described him as “one of Scotland’s brightest young talents”.

The 19-year-old was out of contract after a debut season in which he established himself as a first-team regular at Tynecastle. He made 26 appearances and impressed supporters with his skill, pace and awareness despite his lack of experience.

“We’ll make a lot of signings over the summer and I’m expecting seven or eight players to come in but I doubt if any of those will be as significant as Sam re-signing,” Levein told the Hearts website.

“He showed great maturity last season, for someone so young. Once he got his chance in the first team, what impressed me almost as much as his ability was his work-rate and his knowledge of the position that he played in. He’s got a willingness to help his team-mates and that is very valuable. From his debut he really lit the place up.

“He’s very much one of our, and Scotland’s, brightest young talents. It confirms to the Hearts support and everybody out there that we’re serious about developing young players. Sam committing for another three years is excellent news for everybody.”