Esmael Goncalves today revealed how Hearts players are being made to work for their days off as manager Craig Levein tries to incentivise his squad.
A new training schedule at Riccarton has helped re-energise the first team, who must now prove they deserve each Wednesday off by working tirelessly on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Levein was appointed manager at the end of last month and has implemented some subtle changes in his first two weeks at the helm. Goncalves, the Portuguese striker, explained players are very much in favour.
“It’s been a little bit different. There has been a little bit of change, more work, it’s more physical. It’s good, all the players are liking it,” he said.
“I’m definitely going home more tired. When Craig came in he said we’re going to work on a Monday and Tuesday, off on Wednesday and back Thursday and Friday.
“To win the free day on Wednesday we must deserve it, and he means it. Monday and Tuesday are runs and small games, so on Wednesday we have a good rest. So far, we’ve had our Wednesdays off.”
The 26-year-old went on to admit that Hearts needed to improve fitness levels after a slow start to the season, including an early exit from the group stage of the Betfred League Cup.
“We needed it. In football, now you must be fit to win games. Quality is not enough, you must work hard,” he said.
The required endeavour was certainly evident last weekend during the goalless draw with Aberdeen at Murrayfield. “All the players understand what Craig wants and we did well against Aberdeen,” continued Goncalves. “They’re a good side, [joint] top of the league.
“We can see the manager’s methods work against a good team and we did well against the side in first place. We played as Craig wanted and also showed fight.”
Hearts’ next assignment is away to Hamilton this afternoon. The SuperSeal Stadium in Lanarkshire is, of course, a far more modest venue than the salubrious home of Scottish Rugby.
“It is difficult on one hand, but not the other. In our situation you need points and that’s the motivation for every game, even in the smaller stadia,” said Goncalves.
“Of course, I’m even more motivated this week because we lost two points against Aberdeen. We should have won and now we need to recover. It is a game we must win.”
Goncalves was just one of a number of Hearts players thwarted by the Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis last week. He explained the process he goes through at times when he fails to find the net.
“Their keeper did amazing, after the game I was a little bit sad but now it’s a new week, it’s in the past and we must look forward to Hamilton.
“On Saturday I went home and felt a bit sad and disappointed not to have scored because I tried hard. Afterwards, I spoke to Craig and Austin and they told me I did everything I could but the goalkeeper just had one of those days.
“I also watched the game again on BBC Alba. I learn, maybe I should shoot on the right next time, for example, and I will score. I see new things and I believe I will learn.
“I’m my own biggest critic, all the time after games or even if I’ve trained poorly I always look inside and tell myself I have not given enough. I always look at myself and know when I’m wrong and when I’ve performed poorly.
“I look first of all at me always for what I can do better and then I can speak with the other players.”
Goncalves is enjoying life under Levein having been brought back to Scotland by the former Hearts head coach Ian Cathro in January. The Dundonian lost his job at Tynecastle following that Betfred Cup exit.
“Cathro also had the mentality of winning games,” explained Goncalves. “He was a good tactician but we didn’t have the players for this style. Scotland is not for this style.
“Here, it’s tough and what Craig says is right. It doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you win. He also has good tactics to play, as well as put the fight in the team.”