Hearts' plans for Europe including new signings, transfer budget and club investment

SNS Group
Those in charge in Gorgie are ahead of the game for the summer

Preparations for European football have been ongoing for months behind the scenes at both Tynecastle Park and Riccarton. Hearts knew in mid-winter that the prospect of league-stage ties in either the Europa League or Conference League was realistic, and began planning accordingly.

They enter the Europa League play-off in August aiming to reach the new-look 36-team league stage, but knowing they carry a parachute into the Conference League in the event of defeat. Opponents will be scouted once draws are made but groundwork is well underway. New signings, infrastructure improvements and potential travel schedules are all in place.

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“It's not so much the opposition,” explained Steven Naismith, the Hearts head coach. “When you find out your opponents, you then work out how they're going to play, what their main threats are and how we're going to hurt them. We have been preparing since January for what is coming, not just for Europe this year but to make us better.

“That's consistently going on in terms of recruitment and what we're going to do. We are consistently on that all the time. We did a lot of work last season on when we've got the ball and when we don't have the ball. It becomes easier but I think we can demand a bit more from the players now.

“Our planning from day one, that's what we are in the thick of at the moment. That's what needs to be ready for when the players come back so we get as much time on the pitch with the players. You are going to lose that when you go into Europe, you lose pitch time. It's key to getting that message across.”

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Hearts’ player budget won’t change drastically. Their wage bill is already one of the highest in Scotland and the club will not take unnecessary financial risks in pursuit of European or domestic glory. Livingston left-back James Penrice, Ross County midfielder Yan Dhanda and Motherwell midfielder Blair Spittal have already agreed pre-contracts to move to Edinburgh. A new right-back will also arrive during the summer, and goalkeeper Ryan Fulton is poised to join from Hamilton Academical.

“I'm not sure the budget is that much different. I haven't had the conversations yet but it isn't going to be much different,” said Naismith. “The club pushes as much as it can all the time. As I've said, if there's a player to be signed that will make us better and be an asset then we will look to do that. If that's beyond what we expected to play, they are willing to push to do as much as they can.

“On the flip side, we are not just going to sign players because we're in Europe. That's just not going to happen. I want to rely on the academy at points. There isn't a big: ‘Oh, we've got this budget over that budget.’ I don't want to work like that and the club have been comfortable saying that's not how we're going to work. If we think there are players in areas we need to really strengthen, we will strengthen. If not, we'll not.”

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Knowing their club will earn a minimum £5m in extra income from a European campaign stretching through to Christmas at least, Hearts fans might be hoping Naismith pockets a few million to spend on new recruits. “That's not the case. The club isn't going to risk its long-term future just for the sake of that. We are ambitious and want to keep improving,” he stated.

“We're investing a lot into the training pitches this summer. The infrastructure needs to grow as we bring players in. The quality and level of player that comes in, the expectation of what we get every day and what they get every day rises. We need to carry that trend on. There are loads of things we will be improving on but we aren't going to splash cash for the sake of it.”

Hearts’ prospects of automatic progress to the league phase of the Europa League rests on Borussia Dortmund winning the Champions League and Atalanta finishing outside the top four in the Italian Serie A. “I think every season there are different scenarios of what could happen. What will happen, will happen,” said Naismith. “As players and coaches, you want to be involved in the biggest tournament you can be. For us, that's the Europa League. If we're in that, then that's brilliant.

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“No matter what happens, we have the opportunity to get in there. Having the fallback of the Conference League is a good one to have. The biggest thing is we've got European football for the first half of the season. We will look forward to the challenges.”

All three UEFA competitions take a new format for season 2024/25, each with 36 teams in one big league. Clubs are then drawn against different opponents for one-off ties. “I like it,” admitted Naismith. “I didn't think there was a lot wrong with the old one but I do like the changes. It gives you different ties. It's not home-and-away. It's probably a bit more work for us in terms of prep and understanding who you are going to play, but I like it.”

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