Recruiting goalkeepers is becoming a favoured pastime for the Hearts manager Craig Levein. Zdenek Zlamal signed in May and arrived in June from Czech Republic. The young American Kevin Silva began a trial last month and signed this month. Ireland internationalist Colin Doyle yesterday signed on a two-year deal.
Levein is not simply stockpiling keepers for the sake of it. He wants to engineer as much competition as possible in every area of his playing pool. Zlamal and Doyle will compete at first-team level, with Silva and Kelby Mason joining the reserve squad. Zlamal welcomes the competition after securing his “dream” move to Britain from Fastav Zlin.
“This is normal. It happens everywhere. I think the better goalkeeper will play. That happens at every club and I like it this way,” he told the Evening News. The 32-year-old Czech remains the man in possession after making his Hearts debut in Wednesday night’s 2-1 Betfred Cup win at Cove Rangers. Whether he is in goal again against Raith Rovers in Methil tomorrow remains to be seen.
Levein faces a difficult choice for his No.1 between Zlamal and Doyle and will want to assess both as much as possible before the Ladbrokes Premiership begins next month. Zlamal, recovered from an ankle infection, staked his claim on the outskirts of Aberdeen against the Highland League champions.
“Wednesday was my second game for Hearts because I had the little problem with my ankle. I’m happy that we won the game,” he said. “We knew these matches can be very tough because other teams have a lot of motivation against us. We won and I felt good.”
Hearts fans arriving early at the newly-constructed Balmoral Stadium would have seen the giant keeper put himself through a rather unusual warm-up routine. A series of cartwheels, handsprings and backflips prepared Zlamal for action and caused a few raised eyebrows in the process.
Expect it to be a regular pre-match occurrence this season. “I warmed up like this since my childhood,” he stated. “When I was younger I did gymnastics as well as football and other sports. I kept this warm-up with me. It doesn’t matter to anybody else, it is just for me and for my confidence. I do this before every game.”
If the warm-up needed explaining, the nickname definitely does. Zlamal has brought the moniker “Bobby” with him to Edinburgh from his homeland and Hearts players, staff and fans have been asking the story behind it.
He is not merely trying to curry favour with locals by choosing an authentic Scottish name. He has actually been called “Bobby” throughout his career thanks to a well-known relative.
“My nickname is Bobby because my first name is a little bit difficult for people outside Czech Republic to say,” said Zlamal. “My Uncle was a very famous goalkeeper in Czech Republic, especially at Slavia Prague. He looks like Bobby Charlton because he has no hair. He was called Bobby Zlamal for that reason.
“When I started playing football and I went to Prague, many players asked if Bobby Zlamal was related to me. I said he was my uncle and from then everybody called me Bobby.”
Having an easily-pronounced name is probably more important for a new goalkeeper mired in a huge group of summer signings. Zlamal is still getting to knew his Hearts team-mates, who in turn are trying to familiarise themselves with him and one another.
“We need time to get used to each other. We are training to help this and we are getting to know each other every day. We will get better and better,” said the keeper, frustrated at not keeping a clean sheet on Wednesday against Cove.
“Every goal is a little bit disappointing. I think it might have been offside, I don’t know. I hope I can keep a clean sheet in the next game. If I lose one goal and we win the game, it doesn’t matter. It is more important that we win.”
These are, of course, minor details in the grand scheme of Zlamal’s personal happiness. He hankered for a move to the UK for years and finally got the opportunity when Hearts made contact. He wasted no time in calling a certain Rudi Skacel for advice.
“I asked Skacel. I know him, although not too well. I have met him a few times. He recommended Hearts to me and told me it was a very good club with a lot of fans, the best fans.
“He said every home match is sold out so that is perfect. I am looking forward to that. I listened to what Skacel said but my dream as a child was to play in Britain. When I heard I had an offer from Hearts, I said: ‘Yes, I want to go there.’ It was easy.”