Hearts: Summer transfer plans underway as club 'really need to get things right'
A notable job advert was posted by Hearts earlier this week: Lead recruitment analyst.
Under sporting director Joe Savage, the club are “embarking on an exciting restructure of the recruitment operation” with the appointment set to represent “significant change to the player recruitment operation processes, introducing a new way of working that will support the performance and recruitment functions within the football department”.
Key functions of the role will be attending games to cast judgement on players identified, working with data and ‘modern methods’ and liaising with scouts.
Recruitment at Tynecastle has been a huge bugbear of fans and one of the key elements of their complaints about the club which reaches beyond the recent results and towards a bigger picture.
The numbers don’t make good reading. Since Ann Budge took over the club, the first-team have made nearly 100 signings across seven seasons. An average of 14 each campaign.
When it comes to infamous transfer windows, January 2006 is always placed on a pedestal by Hearts fans. Bruno Aguiar, Jose Goncalves, Neil McCann, Juho Makela, Mirsad Beslija, Lee Johnson, Chris Hackett, Martin Petras, Ludek Straceny, Raïs M’Bolhi and, who can forget, Nerijus Barasa all arrived.
There is an assumption that the whole Vladimir Romanov era was like that. In his first seven full seasons at the helm the number of arrivals averaged 9.3.
Supporters have seen players come and go like never before in recent years.
Whichever person is recruited for the lead recruitment analyst role will be joining a club about to enter a truly significant transfer window with plans having already begun as Neilson aims to shape the squad further to his liking.
"They started a while ago,” he said.
"We know the areas we need to strengthen in, we know the areas we need to make some changes. It’s just a case of starting to do that.
"We obviously want to obtain the first objective which is to get promoted, once we do that we can push forward with it.”
He added: “That is part and parcel of being a manager,” with regards to dealing with remnants of previous regimes.
"Whoever is in the seat takes the flak for things which have been before.
"We know what we need to do. I spoke about it when we came in, spoke to the owner about it, spoke to the sporting director when he came in about what the long-term goal is.
"It’s about turning the squad over to make sure we get a team which is competitive next year but it’s about making sure every time we come out [a transfer window] we are closer to where we want to be which is at the top end of the Premier League.”
Transfer windows and new signings are normally something supporters look forward to. Akin to the feeling evoked by Christmas Day as a child. Hope, excitement, the expectation of something new and surprising.
In Gorgie, each passing window is treated with increasing weariness and suspicion as fans struggle to relate and make a connection to so many individuals.
In some instances there has been a good reason for substantial alterations. The relegation and promotion during Neilson’s first spell in charge necessitated their own rebuilds. In addition, managerial appointments have required change.
Still, Neilson understands fans’ concerns about the lack of stability in personnel and believes this is the window where the club “really need to get things right”.
Getting things right
“That’s what we need to try and get to,” he said.
"We need to be at a stage when we’re promoting a couple of younger ones from the academy into the first-team group and maybe bringing in one or two in the January window and maybe three or four in the summer window externally. The rest of it is a solid squad.
"I’ve not been here the last three years but there seems to be a number of players coming in and out every window and we have to start somewhere. When we came in the summer there, taking over a team in the Championship, a later start as well and then going into the January window it was a case of bringing in a couple to try and help get us to where we needed to get to.
"I’ve always said when I first came in, this summer window will be the big window for us because that is the window when we’re playing from the same pack as the rest of the Premiership teams.
"Last summer we were playing in a window where we had already missed a number of players because we didn’t start back until later on. This window for me is the one we really need to get things right, make sure we get the right players in. Then hopefully once we do that and get to the next January window we will see a far less turnaround of players that previously happened.”
The lack of game time for the club’s talented youngsters this season is another element which hasn’t sat well with some fans. They are, however, still very much a part of Neilson’s longer term thinking.
Those out on loan will be expected to return after getting regular game time and making a “push” to be part of the first-team.
The demands of playing at Hearts is that you need to win every week,” Neilson said. “The objective of the season is to get out the Championship and get into the Premier League.
"We made the decision that the younger ones would go out and get loan games.
"It would have been easy for us just now to bring a couple of them back and then play one or two games. But we felt for the long-term projection of them, to help them, it was to get out there and get them 12-15 games. It means when they come back in the summer they are ready to push for the first-team squad.”