Sean Clare has been tipped to emerge as a standout player in the Ladbrokes Premiership as he prepares for his first involvement with Hearts.
The 22-year-old former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder is expected to be in the squad for today’s Tynecastle showdown with Aberdeen, five weeks after signing a three-year contract with the Edinburgh club.
Craig Levein is excited about unleashing his most recent recruit but has been keen to afford him enough time to get his fitness and sharpness to adequate levels following a summer spent recovering from a foot operation.
The manager declared on Thursday that he feels Clare is now ready for involvement and he could be given his debut against the Dons this afternoon. Gillingham manager Steve Lovell, who had the midfielder on loan in League One during the first half of last season before he was recalled by Wednesday, told the Evening News that Hearts supporters are in for a treat with their new livewire midfielder.
“I can see why Craig’s so excited because I was exactly the same when we got him in,” said Lovell. “I had worked with him before in the academy at Charlton so I knew him as a player and a character before he came to Gillingham. He was excellent for us last season. He grew in confidence and I was just disappointed we couldn’t keep him for the second part of the season because he made a heck of a difference for us.
“If there was any opportunity to have got him back, I’d have definitely taken it. I’d take him back tomorrow if I could, no doubt about that.
“When we lost him for a couple of games through injury, we really missed him. Every time he came back into the side, it was like having a new player. There’s no substitute for quality and he’s certainly got that. He’s an English Championship-calibre player in my view.
“He hasn’t played as much league football as you’d expect from a player as good as he is. He got in at Sheffield Wednesday last season but the injury cut him short. Hopefully he can kick on now up at Hearts. If he starts well and steers clear of injury, he’ll be a standout player in Scotland.”
Lovell described Clare as a clever and adaptable midfielder who will excite supporters with his ingenuity.
“When he first came to us, we played with a diamond and I saw something in him that made me think he could play right-back,” explained the Gills manager. “He did a great job for us there and when he built up his confidence, we stuck him back into midfield and he was great there for us.
“He’s full of energy, great running with the ball. He puts his foot in as well and he works hard but he’s more of an attacking midfielder who loves getting the ball at his feet and travelling with it. That’s why I put him at right-back because he was able to travel forward with the ball.
“He glides across the ground. There are players you can pigeon hole as a defensive midfielder or an attacking midfielder but Sean can play in loads of positions.
“He can play No. 10, he could even play up front if you wanted him to. He’s very versatile. He’ll go wherever he can to get on the ball and effect the game, he’s very clever. He’s a little bit different - a bit off the cuff.
“The supporters up at Hearts will love him. It’s just a matter now of him getting used to the Scottish league and getting that consistency. Hopefully he settles quickly, has a positive start and gets that self-confidence I know he’s got. I think he’ll be a great acquisition for Hearts.”
Clare’s readiness comes as a timely boost to supporters reeling at the news that John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu are facing around five months on the sidelines. Aaron Hughes, Marcus Godinho and Harry Cochrane are also in contention to return from injury today, but Michael Smith is suspended.