Hearts want permanent deals as new signings settle in at Riccarton

Alan Forrest and Lewis Neilson are the first of several incoming new recruits to train at Riccarton as Hearts players returned for pre-season training this week.

Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 7:00 am

A demanding campaign lies ahead even though merely four weeks have passed since the last demanding campaign ended. Extra European commitments necessitate a larger first-team squad, so Forrest and Neilson can expect to be joined by more signings.

Supporters are understandably becoming excited as Jorge Grant and Alex Cochrane get close to inking their names on Hearts contracts. Whether Lawrence Shankland follows suit remains to be seen. There is plenty time left to negotiate that business and more with the summer transfer window open until the end of August.

By then, Robbie Neilson and his players will know their European fate. The two-legged Europa League play-off tie takes place on August 18 and August 25 to determine whether Hearts will play in that competition or parachute into the Europa Conference League group stage.

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They are guaranteed a minimum of eight matches against continental opponents either way in what will be the most financially-rewarding European season in the club’s history.

Players are already responding to the challenge despite this week being mainly set aside for testing and medical assessments at Hearts’ training ground. A pre-season training camp in Spain starts on Friday.

“There is obviously the lure of European football but also that desire to try to compete in the league and cups again,” Neilson explained in an exclusive Evening News interview.

“Players coming back after the summer see the new players we have brought in and others we are potentially going to bring in. You see the levels going up so everyone needs to up their game to make sure they get in the team and get game time.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson and his players are back training at Riccarton.

“It’s always interesting to see new faces coming in and how it lifts the level of the group.” The more the merrier in that regard, although Hearts are not about to adopt the scattergun approach to their summer recruitment.

Forrest checked in from Livingston and Neilson was lured from Dundee United. Neither has cost Hearts a penny other than wages and signing-on fees.

“The boys have taken the new lads into their group which I expected because we have a good group of players here,” added Neilson. “We brought Alan Forrest in and quite a few of the boys know him already from playing against him.

“Lewis Neilson knows a few of the younger boys, which always helps, so they have fitted in pretty quickly.”

Permanent transfers are preferred by Neilson and his sporting director, Joe Savage. Loan deals in June aren’t overly common with clubs in most countries either still on a summer break or assessing their squad having just recently reported back.

Hearts reaped decent dividends from last season’s loanees Ellis Simms and Cochrane in particular. Ben Woodburn and Taylor Moore occupied more bit-part roles within the squad. No-one is ruling out the prospect of another couple of temporary transfers before autumn sets in.

“We always prefer permanent deals but we will see where we are towards the end of the window,” explained Neilson. “It’s difficult to get a good player on loan at this time of the year. Most teams are taking their good ones in to train with the first team and play in pre-season games.

“Generally, good loan opportunities don’t come up until later in the window. We want to get the majority of our business done early so we are ready for the games.”

A six-week pre-season should ready Hearts for the opening weekend of the cinch Premiership on Saturday, July 30. Neilson won’t dangle the European carrot just yet with three important domestic matches to come first.

“We aren’t really talking about European games at the moment. Our first competitive game is Ross County at home, then we have a massive derby away at Easter Road in the second league game. We need to be ready for those matches.

“After that it’s Dundee United at home and then we go into European ties. We can’t take our eyes off the ball so the aim right now is to make sure everyone is ready for that first game against County.”

One confirmed new signing who has yet to arrive in Edinburgh is the Australian centre-back Kye Rowles. He was given an extended break along with international colleague Nathaniel Atkinson after both players helped Australia reach the World Cup finals. Their final intercontinental play-off took place only last week.

Hearts captain Craig Gordon is also absent from Riccarton this week after his end-of-season Scotland commitments also stretched into last week.

“Craig will join us over in Spain and Atkinson and Rowles will join us when we get back,” confirmed Neilson. “That gives them a bit of time off because they had a lot of travelling, especially the Australian boys having been in Doha. They will only have been off for less than two weeks so their fitness levels should be fine.

“The first couple of days of pre-season are just testing day for the boys – a bit of running, heart screening and all the medical stuff. The actual on-pitch stuff starts today with a double session and then we fly out early doors on Friday. We have our first pre-season game over there [against Europa FC from Gibraltar].

“The boys have come back in very good shape. They had a couple of weeks off doing nothing and then they had a programme to follow and they have all done it. They are in really good condition so that means we can start training at a really high level.”

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