Hearts coach Gordon Forrest reveals the internal talks which kept him at Tynecastle

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The first-team coach is a key part of the backroom staff

It is more than a year since Gordon Forrest’s trusted associates parted company with Hearts. When Robbie Neilson and Lee McCulloch left Tynecastle Park in April 2023 after a run of poor results, many assumed Gordon Forrest would go with them out of solidarity. He was the third element in a three-spoke wheel which powered the club from the Championship to European group-stage football. Yet Forrest chose to stay.

He has never publicly explained the reasons for doing so until now. The success of the Neilson era and his close association with the former manager might have made it easier to agree a severance package along with McCulloch. An invite from Steven Naismith to join the new Hearts coaching team enticed him to sign up. It has proven a sensible choice, with Forrest and Frankie McAvoy assisting head coach Naismith during a successful campaign last season.

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After finishing third in the Premiership and securing another crack at Europe in UEFA’s new-look league format, Forrest is in reflective mood at the Edinburgh club’s pre-season base in Tenerife. He is entitled to feel the decision to stay has been vindicated. “I have full respect for Robbie, we worked together at Dundee United. He made the move [to Hearts] and there was an opportunity to stay but he asked me to come to Hearts. It didn't go to plan eventually but I think there was still some great work done.

“When it [the change of manager last year] did happen, I had a good conversation with Robbie and Naisy asked me to be part of his coaching team. It was good to speak to Robbie to get his thoughts. I'm in a different situation than the manager, we have good respect for each other and he understands I like to be on the pitch to keep working. Fortunately, I got a chance to work with Naisy. He obviously worked with me from a player perspective. It was a discussion that we had and it was great to stay at the club.”

Forrest’s coaching skills, honed in the MLS and New Zealand before he returned to Scotland five years ago, impressed Naismith during his playing days with Hearts. He did not hesitate to keep Forrest on when the chance came. Forrest stressed there was no fallout with Neilson over his decision, with the former Tynecastle manager now in charge at Tampa Bay Rowdies in America.

“I was in MLS before and didn't know Robbie but knew him through football,” explained Forrest. “I came back from Vancouver Whitecaps and was about to start a position with the Scottish FA as coach education manager, but he asked me to go in at Dundee United. That was the first time I met Robbie and we built a real good relationship. He asked us to come to Hearts. We've all been through these situations. That's four managers I've worked with but I am still close with them and got good relationships.

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“I am a person who likes to be on the pitch working with the players. Naisy has been great in terms of the technical staff of Frankie, myself and Gall [Paul Gallacher, goalkeeping coach]. He gives us a lot of responsibility to get on with our jobs. I am heavily involved in the session designs along with the delivery on the pitch as well. Between us, on the tactical side, we have key areas we focus on more individually. We are looking at the bigger picture but we all take a chunk of certain aspects of the game.”

The detail in Naismith’s delegation is intriguing when Forrest begins laying it out. “We've got these six key focus areas we try to work on, whether it is ourselves or the opposition. We take a more in-depth chunk of that. I'll maybe take out of possession, Naisy in possession, Frankie set-plays, Gall the goalkeeping, and then the two transitional moments and a bit of game management within that as well.

“We are zoned in on areas but I am someone who wants to be on the pitch as much as I can. It's about how you can support the manager as an assistant. I've done it for 17/18 years with a few different managers in a few different countries. It's trying to find out how the manager wants you within that role and what you can give him. Naisy has been excellent.

“I've got a coach education background, working with the SFA and New Zealand football, delivered on a lot of courses, worked with a lot of coaches mentoring but Naisy's done it the right way. His playing career is fantastic, the clubs he has played with, the managers he's played under, he's a thinker of the game. He went into coaching with the [Hearts] under-18s and then the B team. He's done it in a great way and learned what he wants to do as a coach, trying things with the 18s and B team. The first-team is a little bit different so he's gained a lot of experience doing it that way.

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“He knows what he wants to do which is important. He's got a clear idea for the team and the identity of how we want to play. He knows what players he wants to recruit and his experience as well, he knows what he wants at the club in terms of environment and culture. You will see the different tweaks and changes within the training ground - chefs coming in, the travel. I know it is off-field stuff but it is good stages of improvement. So I’m very impressed. The good thing is that he is happy to delegate to the different people. We've got so many good support staff around he is happy to do that.”

Forrest has crammed a lot in since returning to Scotland five years ago. Not least being involved in two different Hearts management teams across a historic period of three successive European qualifications for the first time since the club formed in 1874.

“It has been a great four seasons for me,” he remarked. “We won the Championship and three times we've qualified for Europe, plus a couple of Scottish Cup finals, semi-finals. Looking back at that package for me personally as a coach it's been good to come back to Scotland. We won the Championship with Dundee United as well. Even over in MLS I had good successes as well. All these experiences have been fantastic.

“Working over there, a lot of the team were South Americans. I had two Costa Ricans in Vancouver, we had Argentinians, Uruguayans, Jamaicans. It was a great experience coaching over there because it is different being on the pitch, explaining things, how you talk. It's just different cultures. It has been a bit of a journey for me. I was out of Scotland for eight years and been back five years.”

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An added bonus is that his command of Spanish has improved. “I had to do Spanish for my Pro Licence. You had to learn one language and do a 16-week course. It was better out in Vancouver because you are using it. It was basic stuff like one-touch, two-touch, right, left, go forward, go back. Naisy will have to do this as well! At the end of the Pro Licence, you have an interview in the language. It's bits and pieces. It's part of coaching these days.”

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