How Hearts negotiated their best transfer window in years
A patient strategy to recruit quality over quantity appears to have paid off as Hearts reflect on their best transfer window in years.
The summer deadline passed quietly at Tynecastle on Monday night rather than amid a hive of late activity, but the preparatory work was done months earlier.
Upon winning the Championship title back in April, Hearts officials embarked upon a detailed project to both reduce their bloated first-team squad and sign new additions to improve the team.
After seven arrivals, 15 exits and two offers rejected for a major asset in John Souttar, they are entitled to feel a sense of achievement. Manager Robbie Neilson now has a stronger team on his hands as the Premiership table indicates, whilst some deadwood has been shipped out.
Supporters crying out for signings when pre-season training began back in June were advised to stay patient. A radical overhaul was required but the scattergun approach favoured in previous years was gone. Far greater scrutiny would be applied to every new recruit, and length of contracts would be carefully considered.
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Sporting director Joe Savage’s contacts in England paid off, likewise the appointments of George Brown from Rangers as lead recruitment analyst and Southampton’s William Lancefield as head of recruitment.
The latter two identified names like Australian midfielder Cameron Devlin, the only player Hearts actually signed on deadline day. They put others forward, Savage and Neilson assessed the candidates and, where appropriate, Savage negotiated for a deal.
The end result is Josh Ginnelly, Ross Stewart, Alex Cochrane, Beni Baningime, Ben Woodburn, Taylor Moore and Devlin joining Neilson’s squad. Cochrane, Woodburn and Moore are on loan from English clubs, the rest are permanent additions.
Each one adds a certain quality in key outfield positions, with Stewart offering goalkeeper Craig Gordon competition. Hearts’ 3-4-3 playing system needs specific personnel and getting them required a stoic approach. A free agent or two could still arrive.
It would be naive to think every target Savage and Neilson pursued had a car waiting with SatNav programmed for Gorgie. One or two they missed but alternatives were built into the summer recruitment plan.
Departures are equally important given Hearts’ first-team pool numbered 34 players just two years ago. Too many of those were ageing talents on long contracts costing the club a sizeable chunk of their £8.8million wage bill at the time.
Savage and Neilson need a cull. Since April, Steven Naismith, Colin Doyle, Andy Irving, Christophe Berra, Craig Wighton, Aidy White, Harry Cochrane, Zdenek Zlamal, Elliott Frear, Lewis Moore, Shay Logan, Gervane Kastaneer, Loic Damour, Mihai Popescu and Jordan Roberts have left Riccarton’s dressing room.
Damour, Popescu and Roberts are only out on loan but almost certainly won’t play in maroon again. Streamlining to such an extent is never easy inside one transfer window and Hearts were helped by some the above being out of contract.
One individual they could not afford to lose is Souttar. Back from injury and recapturing top form, he was the subject of two offers from an unnamed English Championship club a few weeks ago. None of them matched Hearts’ valuation and were swiftly rejected.
Supporters are rightly pleased with that decision. After some chaotic transfer windows and constant player turnover in recent years, they should feel content with all of this summer’s work.