Gary Mackay: Hearts need a player cull as top four must be the aim

Heart of Midlothian don’t do anything in halves so it’s fair to say we have just finished another tumultuous season.

By Gary Mackay
Friday, 7th May 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 7th May 2021, 8:22 am
The Hearts squad training at Riccarton.
The Hearts squad training at Riccarton.

Robbie Neilson hasn’t even been in charge for a full year since coming back and it feels like five years because so much has happened.

Ann Budge and the board decided Robbie was the right man last summer and I would have backed that decision at the time. He knows the club inside out, although he left quickly last time. The football wasn’t particularly free-flowing in his first spell but it got results.

Several results were questioned this season but in the last few games we finally played with an openness and a freedom. There will now be an expectation for the Premiership We have the third biggest budget in Scotland and with that comes demands.

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I hope for Robbie that he can overcome the Brora Rangers result. I never felt Craig Levein was going to overcome the problems following the 5-0 defeat at Livingston a few years ago.

When a result like Brora happens on your watch, some people will always judge. Hearts have gone into every game since that result with added pressure and it will be similar going into the new season.

There is a demand on the management, current players and new incoming players to make sure a result like that never happens again. It’s not an unfair pressure. It goes with the territory when you play for Hearts.

When I played at Tynecastle we had guys like Alex MacDonald and Roddie MacDonald involved with the club. They played for Rangers and Celtic respectively and I always remember them talking about the expectation there.

Outwith the Old Firm, there’s no doubt the pressure is on the Hearts players because they have a massive support behind them. Naturally, we all hope that support is back inside the stadium raising the roof come August.

With the nucleus of the squad at Tynecastle, plus the other changes happening over the summer, I think they have to be aiming for the top four next term. Unfortunately, that comes on the back of our last run in the Premiership, which just wasn’t in keeping with where Heart of Midlothian should be.

Right from the moment Robbie left – through Ian Cathro, Craig Levein and Daniel Stendel – the results have been poor. Then Robbie came back and had to pick up the pieces because everything that went on left the club in the Championship.

Robbie knows what to expect. He knows the expectations at Hearts. He’s won trophies there and played in Europe. The focus for him and the coaches now must be on recruitment and figuring out who is and isn’t a Hearts player.

If players thought it was difficult shouldering the demands in the Championship, wait till they start in the Premiership. You can either accept the fact that you are playing for Scotland’s third-biggest club and perform, or you either move on.

I’m not sure if Joe Savage ever played at Tynecastle but when the recruitment is being done, he needs to target players with a certain mentality. It’s great when things are going for you but, when they aren’t, fans are rightly demanding.

The current squad and particularly the new guys need to have an idea of what to expect. They will get a decent salary and contract, so there has to be an expectation to perform – hopefully in front of 15,000, 16,000 or 17,000 supporters over the coming weeks.

We definitely need a number of new faces. They have already made a decision on Shay Logan but I think they have to be clear on who is not going to meet the standards required for the Premiership. That’s a big question mark.

I think there has to be absolute realism from the management and Joe Savage about who is actually good enough to get Hearts to where they want to be next year.

The number of players we need will be decided how extensive the cull is. We certainly need one to get rid of deadwood and initially I would say that is more important than how many players we go for.

You would hope Peter Haring is fully fit and raring to go over the summer to be part of the spine of the team. There is clearly a need for at least one centre-back, plus we need at least one other main striker. I think the backbone of the team is what we have to address first.

It will be difficult getting some players moved on. Is that part of your budget if you end up carrying some of the deadwood?

People have commented about players who were brought in on long-term contracts under Craig Levein just staying and accepting salaries. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet as a club and that can be costly but necessary on occasions.

If these players are giving nothing to the football club and are just picking up their wages, are you better to just offer them a sum of money to leave?

That way they are no longer around the football club and can’t create a negative atmosphere in any way. I’m not sure if anyone at Hearts is guilty of doing that but if you only have players in your squad who have a future at the club, then it is far easier to deal with from a managerial point of view.

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