COURTS, administrators, CVA documents, lawyers and Lithuanians are now consigned to Hearts’ past following yesterday’s exit from administration.
The task of stabilising the fallen Edinburgh club has tested the resolve of even the stuffiest bureaucrat. The biggest bonus will not be evident in an office, a court of a conference room, however. It will be seen on the pitch.
Hearts are now free to sign new players once more after spending the last 12 months under a registration embargo. Entering administration brought an automatic ban on new signings, just as exiting administration lifts that restriction. Arguably the biggest hindrance last season as they tried to overhaul a 15-point penalty was their inability to replenish a decimated young squad, resulting in relegation to the Championship. Now they can set about finding the wherewithal for a serious tilt at automatic promotion.
Head coach Robbie Neilson and director of football Craig Levein have been working tirelessly in this direction since their appointments last month. Neilson even cut short a family holiday in Spain to return to Scotland earlier this week. They have some players lined up, others being considered and one or two who have slipped through the net. The main aim is to find those with sufficient desire and the required know-how to secure promotion and, equally importantly, build on it thereafter.
The recruitment process has a common theme: experience. This is already evident from the players Hearts are targeting. There should be no questioning the talent emerging from the Riccarton youth academy, but it will need complemented by hard-nosed campaigners who have been around the block, so to speak. Jamie Hamill, Ryan Stevenson and Jamie MacDonald have all been released, thus the backbone of Hearts’ team needs replacing.
Morgaro Gomis, the 28-year-old former Dundee United midfielder, certainly fits the bill. He has international experience with Senegal and of the English Championship with Birmingham City. He was also an integral part of the United side which lifted the Scottish Cup in 2010. For an anchor man in next season’s Scottish Championship, there won’t be many better.
James Keatings has left Hamilton Academical with the intention of joining Hearts. He will put pen to paper provided Accies confirm to Hearts in writing that they are not seeking compensation for the 22-year-old striker. Keatings scored 15 times in 35 appearances last season and would provide useful experience of the Championship alongside younger forwards already in Neilson’s squad, like Dale Carrick and Gary Oliver.
Gomis and Keatings are likely to be the first two new signings. Goalkeeper Neil Alexander is wanted in a player-coach role for next season and talks have progressed well towards him becoming the third new face. At 36, the former Scotland internationalist is keen to return to his native Edinburgh, but also wants to be certain he will play regularly. He is aware Neilson wants recruit another goalkeeper and is not willing to accept being second choice.
Another seasoned campaigner approached by Hearts was the former St Mirren centre-back Darren McGregor. He joined Rangers last night after receiving a more lucrative offer from a club who also aim to challenge for next season’s Championship title. However, the pursuit of the 28-year-old further underlines the fact Neilson and Levein recognise the need for experience.
The oldest player currently on Hearts’ books is captain Danny Wilson, who does not turn 23 until December. Plenty others are established first-team regulars like Callum Paterson, Scott Robinson and Kevin McHattie. The level of competition with Rangers and Hibs also in the Championship dictates that reinforcements are vital.
For the first time in a year, Hearts can plan a mini recruitment drive knowing they can actually carry it out. Administration is over. A handful of new of players will follow soon and will be earmarked for pivotal roles next season.