Craig Levein feels Hearts have been hugely fortunate to land Sean Clare on a permanent contract, with the manager expecting the 150,000 euros signing to prove to be a bargain buy.
The 22-year-old midfielder joined the Tynecastle club on a three-year deal last weekend, with Hearts paying cross-border compensation to his former club Sheffield Wednesday – 60,000 euros for each of his two-and-a-half years at Hillsborough.
Explaining how Hearts were able to sign the highly-regarded Londoner, who had been the subject of interest from several English clubs, Levein said: “What happened was we tried to get him on loan. He was at Sheffield Wednesday, his contract was up and he decided he was leaving. He was going to one of a number of Championship or even Premier League clubs who were interested. The idea was that we would then take him on loan because obviously his wages would be way beyond what we can afford.
“One or two things happened with clubs he thought he would sign for. He had an injury, had to get a foot operation in March – and pre-season was gone, people had already signed their players just when he was getting fit, so the deal changed from us getting him on loan to whether we could get him permanently.
“What has been good for us is that, for him to go from Sheffield Wednesday to another Championship club or a Premier League club in England, if they don’t agree on a fee, it would go to a tribunal, and that could be set at seven figures.
“Cross-border compensation is more straightforward, black and white. They’re a category two club, we’re a category two club, so it’s 60,000 euros for every year he was at Sheffield Wednesday. The question then became could we find 150,000 euros to invest in a player we would normally not be able to sign.”
Levein reckons Clare will prove to be worth every penny. “For me, it’s a good investment. But like all good investments, you want to watch them perform, then his value goes up. My primary focus isn’t making the money (back from selling him). Why I think this is a really good deal for us is we’re getting a player who we normally wouldn’t get. The bonus is that he’s ours, he’s not on loan.
“If I could have signed Demi Mitchell on a permanent contract (from Manchester United), I would have. But very rarely do you get those opportunities. The way the cards have fallen, it’s worked out particularly well for us.”
Asked if the situation was comparable to Celtic being able to sign Moussa Dembele for £500,000 from Fulham two years ago, Levein said: “The difference with this one is that Sean was prepared to come in under our salary cap. I didn’t think we’d be able to get him on those terms but, to be fair to him, he’s a very sensible kid – and he sees this as a good move for him. If he can play regularly here, obviously that will elevate his chances of playing at the top level.”
Levein expects Clare to bring fresh power and dynamism to the midfield. “I see him as a player who can play in a four-man midfield because of his athleticism,” he said. “At times, it would be good to play with four in midfield and two out-and-out strikers. We’ve done that at home a few times and I think he’s good enough to play in there.
“He can cover the ground and has the technical ability to play centrally or out wide. It just brings us another strength to the team. We don’t have a player as mobile as him, someone with that pace, power, size and strength. All of those things make me feel good about having him available.”
Levein expects Clare to need a few weeks of intense training before he is ready to make an impact after recovering from a foot injury. He is unlikely to be involved against Livingston at Tynecastle tomorrow. “He has not trained with a team since March,” said the manager. “He has got to catch up and I think that will take him a couple of weeks. He is not on the same programme the rest of the players are on for this weekend, he’s got catch-up stuff to do and he will be in training this weekend as well. Give it a couple of weeks and he’ll be ready to go.”