Craig Levein believes David Vanecek is precisely the striker Hearts need as he revealed the scouting process which brought the Czech to Edinburgh. Vanecek flew to Spain to begin his Hearts career in earnest yesterday knowing he has specific commodities which attracted scout John Murray, manager Levein and his coaching staff.
He stands 6ft 3ins tall, is built like a tipper truck and has a penchant for attacking crosses inside the penalty area. He left FK Teplice when his contract expired last month, having already signed a pre-contract agreement with Hearts back in July. Like supporters at Tynecastle Park, Levein is eager to see his new recruit at full throttle.
“It was in the summer, we were looking for a traditional target man and there were half a dozen that had come up who were in our price range,” he explained. “John Murray did a bit of work on him and he was the one he recommended. So we all had a look and he’s what we’re looking for.
“He’s a good age , he has a decent goalscoring record. He has a little work to do catching up fitness-wise, but I don’t expect him to take that long to really get going. Sometimes you bring in younger players and takes a bit of time but I don’t expect it to take long with David.
“He has been off for three or four weeks so he will probably need a little bit of work this week. The rest of the boys have only had a week of so they can almost just go back into the routine, with maybe just a little more work. David will need to do some sort of fitness work.”
Vanecek’s seven goals in 16 appearances helped Teplice to a comfortable mid-table position prior to the Czech winter break. His departure for Scotland leaves a void at his former club, although he should slot in perfectly at his new one. There will be a place for him even with Steven Naismith, Steven MacLean, Craig Wighton and Uche Ikpeazu competing in attack.
“He’s different. We’ll need to cross the ball for him to be at his most effective and we’re quite good at that,” said Levein of Vanecek. “If we continue to do what we did, particularly during the early part of the season, I think it will suit what he does.
“I don’t want to change him. We need to do things that will enable him to score. So I’m hopeful. Every time you make a signing you are hopeful but you can never be 100 per cent certain.”
Vanecek was accompanied on the flight to Spain yesterday morning by another new face. Conor Shaughnessy joined Hearts on loan from Leeds United on Monday to provide defensive cover after Jimmy Dunne returned to parent club Burnley.
Levein isn’t sure as yet if that will be the end of business at Tynecastle in the current transfer window. Chances are he could enter the market again before January is over, although he is not making any definite plans.
“I don’t know. That might depend on who is going out,” he said. “There are a few things that may happen on that front. It is quite early in the window to say we are definitely done as things happen in the window.”
Hearts trained for the first time at their training base near Murcia yesterday afternoon. Temperatures reached 17 degrees centigrade but will become cooler as the week progresses. The Edinburgh club face Belgian side Lokeren in a friendly on Friday before returning home on Sunday.
After ending the first half of the Scottish Premiership campaign with successive wins over Hamilton and Hibs, players are once again feeling confident. Injuries to vital personnel took a heavy toll on the team’s form and led to a disappointing sequence of just one win in ten games before the home victory against Hamilton.
“It has been difficult. Results haven’t been as good as we would have liked,” conceded Levein. “I don’t know if it is making excuses or not but, to play a certain way, we need certain things in the team to be able to do what we set up for the beginning. If they are not there then it’s more difficult.
“I didn’t expect to lose as many key players as we did. Some of it might be on my part. Maybe I should have done some things better and picked up more points by doing something different. But every day is a school day.”
Christophe Berra, John Souttar, Dunne, Naismith and Ikpeazu have all been out for considerable spells. Their absences have had a huge bearing on results. Levein admitted this has been as taxing a season as he has known in his managerial career.
“I think it was because of the players who got injured. If you could have picked four or five players who I did not want injured, then it was them.”
Hearts took a few days off last week before reconvening for their Spanish trip. Management and coaching staff did a lot of reviewing and re-evaluating prior to the winter shutdown and it paid off handsomely against Hamilton and Hibs.
After the victory at Easter Road, Levein felt it necessary to try and detach himself from football to some extent. It wasn’t easy for a man who is manager, director of football and board member at Tynecastle.
“I used the last week to try and get away from everything but it’s difficult because the phone is constantly going and stuff like that,” he said. “The review process is done on a weekly basis because after every match we watch it and your brain is constantly ticking over.”
Hearts, to their credit, remain only six points off the top of the Premiership having slid down the table from the top after losing key players to injury.
Levein concluded: “The thing is that we have had a difficult time and it is not guaranteed that we will get back to where we were because there are a lot of things that are involved – like chemistry between players and people finding their form as well after injury.
“The signs are there that once we have everybody fit then we will more likely to be the team we were at the start of the season.”