Hearts in Spain: Alex Cochrane reveals talks with English Championship clubs and why he chose Tynecastle
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His future is finalised after signing a three-year contract and his value to the Edinburgh club emphasised by the moderate six-figure fee paid to Brighton and Hove Albion. The 22-year-old showed enough during last season’s loan to suggest he is worth the money.
Feeling wanted and settled helps any footballer at any club. A Love Island-style unveiling on social media preceded Cochrane’s initiation singing challenge from the Hearts squad. After a rendition of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, it was like he’d never been away.
Brighton extended his contract earlier this month but the player knew they were simply protecting their investment and that his career would continue elsewhere. “I always knew Hearts were interested,” he explained.
“I had a conversation with the gaffer at the tail end of last season and he said the club wanted to sign me. I had a bit of time to myself on holiday, came back and talks were happening and an offer got put in.
“For me it was a quick decision. It was a no-brainer to come back here and build on what we did last season. We're in Europe as well, which is going to be a hard test but a great experience against teams capable of doing great things. We'll be pushing in the league and cup again and going for it. It was an opportunity I couldn't turn down.
“I spoke to Brighton at the back end of the season. There was a contract I had to sign, but I spoke to [technical director] David Weir and he said if the right move came along, I could leave. I'm thankful for what they've done for me over the last couple of years and I wish them all the best.”
Tynecastle wasn't the only option. Talks took place with English Championship teams as Queens Park Rangers and Coventry City both made advances for the left-back.
“There were a few, yeah. It was just interest although conversations happened, it was nothing too full on. When I knew Hearts were interested, it was a big opportunity for me to come back.
“I’m here to develop and really push myself. It's a tough league. I've got three seasons here and I want to improve every season then see where we go. To come back and play for Hearts is a huge opportunity and I want to push myself and develop my game.”
Hearts would have faced a considerably tougher task to persuade Cochrane to move to Scotland if he wasn’t here last season. The familiarity and standard of the club carried huge sway, as the player admits.
Initially he was slightly hesitant about last summer’s loan move, but a nudge in the right direction from former Tynecastle defender Weir proved significant.
“Last season he did [make a case for Hearts]. He told me what the football would be like, what the club was like and that made my mind up to come here last season. After being here for a season, I knew what it was all about.
“He just wished me all the best and asked me for my opinion on what I wanted and what my preferences were. He's helped me a lot.
“It definitely made it a lot easier, knowing the city and knowing the league. Maybe if I didn't have the loan and that experience I could have potentially gone elsewhere, but last year was great and I'm happy to be back here.
“I've definitely got more experience of playing in the big games and the harder games. It's helped me develop the physical side of it as well. Playing Saturday-Wednesday on pitches that you have to get used to and deal with, especially against teams that play different styles. I've definitely grown from last year.”
This is still an enormous change, however. Cochrane is uprooting his entire life and not simply on a temporary basis this time. He arrives as an established first-team player who cost an amount of money very few Scottish teams are spending. That carries an element of pressure.
“It's a big decision but I spoke with my family and girlfriend. We thought it was the right one. It's exciting times for myself and I’ve got my family's support so we're looking forward to it. The gaffer showed a lot of faith in me last season by playing me in big games. I'm hoping to repay that fee and kick on again this season.”
This season’s Hearts squad, once fully assembled, will be even more competitive than last year’s. “Definitely, especially with European football this season,” acknowledged Cochrane.
“Everyone wants to play in the big games but there's going to be times I'll have to sit out and the squad has to be rotated. That's part of football. As long as the team does well and comes first, then that's the main priority.”
Torturing Cochrane by making him sing as a new guy generated some hilarity at the team’s training base this week. He was stunned to learn he had to do an initiation. “I had to get that done, it was a terrible 30 seconds,” he laughed.
“I sang Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. I was dreadful! I was getting stick, it was awful. It's just team building at the end of the day. All good fun.”
The Love Island idea was far better received. “I was a fan of it,” said Cochrane. “A few of the boys gave me stick, saying that it's dreadful, but I watch Love Island so I was happy to be a part of it and go along with it.”