WORKING to replenish his squad before facing Hibs, the Hearts manager Craig Levein today revealed he could have three new faces in place when the Edinburgh clubs meet at Tynecastle Park a week on Sunday.
The Scottish Cup fourth-round tie is dominating thoughts amongst Capital fans during the Premiership’s winter break. It is the next fixture on the horizon and, while Hibs have signed goalkeeper Scott Bain and forward Jamie Maclaren, the only annoucement across the city since the transfer window opened was Jamie Walker’s departure to Wigan Athletic.
Levein isn’t flustered. He flew to Spain with his squad this morning for a five-day winter training camp near Valencia after agreeing a loan deal for Manchester United left-back Demetri Mitchell last night. He is also in talks with Go Ahead Eagles about striker Leon de Kogel and wants a new attacking midfielder. He hopes to secure all three before sending his team out against their city rivals.
“Yes, we should have players in for the derby. There’s no point going over names just now because a lot of things are up in the air. I’d hope to have a couple in, maybe three,” he explained.
“We don’t have any trialists organised at this moment but you can never rule anything out. The positions we need to strengthen are still the same. We aren’t bringing any young ones in for the future in this window, it needs to be people who can help us just now. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Hearts are not necessarily scouting for a Walker replica after selling the 24-year-old forward for £300,000. “It is not so easy to find that kind of player, is it? We can’t get a cookie cutter and try and fit in a player who is exactly like the one who left. We do need a player who can help score goals and create chances. We need a player of that ilk,” said Levein.
The Spanish trip includes closed-door friendlies against the Dutch Eredivisie club Vitesse Arnhem tomorrow and German Bundesliga II side Nuremberg on Saturday. Both games take place at the Oliva Nova resort on the Costa Blanca.
Several young players travelled with the senior squad after Levein recalled them from loans at lower-division clubs. Forward Dario Zanatta is back from Raith Rovers, midfielder Harry Paton returns from Stenhousemuir and full-back Marcus Godinho’s stay at Berwick Rangers has also ended. Andy Irving’s loan at Berwick has been extended until the end of the season, but he is recalled for this trip. Levein will give them all game time in Spain to compensate for a long injury list.
“I just want to get the players back into the swing of things,” Levein explained. “We took on the two games and we have eight injuries, so it looks a lot more difficult now than it was when we organised the trip. We are taking a lot of kids with us and that is just the way it is. The injured players are staying behind – Prince [Buaben], Arnaud [Djoum], Michael Smith, Connor Randall, Lewis Moore, [Krystian] Novak, [Rafal] Grzelak.
“I expect them all to have a chance of being ready for the Hibs game. I don’t want to take the chance of playing them in a match right now. They are all at the point where another week of recuperation will see that they are spot on.
“Malaury Martin is back from injury and we have a few experienced players with us.”
Martin, the French midfielder, has yet to make an appearance under Levein. He joined Hearts 12 months ago on a three-and-a-half-year contract but a ruptured groin muscle prevented him making any impact to date this season.
“He is fit and has been training for a little while. He was on the bench in Aberdeen and he will play over in Spain, so we will see how he gets on,” said Levein who will now evaluate Martin from a different perspective having been director of football at Tynecastle for three years before accepting a return to the dugout in August.
“It is different watching the training doing this job than it was in my previous role. I need to get an idea of what he can do and what he can’t do.
“As a director of football, I wasn’t selecting the players so I didn’t have to pay as much attention to how they were training. I was on my mobile phone half the time! This is different now I am the manager.
“When I am making the selection process for games and something has happened, or I feel somebody has been off it in training, then I can deal with that. As a manager, when you leave players out you always speak to them in those circumstances. That is a normal thing.”
The winter transfer window is Levein’s first opportunity to reshape his squad but he must use the limited cash available to him wisely. His players set a new record of six clean sheets in a row before the winter break, so it is fair to say Levein’s stamp has firmly been put on this Hearts team.
“As soon as you take over it is your team and you have to make the best out of what you have got. Everybody has a different take on how they want to play,” he remarked.
“The defensive structure is something that I value highly. We ended the year well. Everybody has taken a bit of a lift from the clean-sheet record. The challenge is to try and add other things to what we are doing. There is a lot to be positive about but I feel that we can get better. If we can improve the quality and keep the defensive side of things going, then it gives us a better chance of picking up more points.”