A thick skin serves Andy Halliday well wherever football takes him. From Livingston to Middlesbrough, Rangers, India and now Hearts. “No matter where I go, I will get slaughtered but I don't mind,” says the latest new signing at Tynecastle Park.
His on-field image, that of an aggressive and sometimes snarling midfielder, is somewhat different to his actual personality. Joining Hearts on a two-year contract prompted some welcome positive comments after his departure from Ibrox in May.
“I have actually had a lot of nice messages. People were saying to me, if you excuse my French: ‘Oh...you aren't an a*******. You are actually alright!’
“Look, if people got to know me on a personal level and like or don't like the way I talk, then it's a matter of opinion. I am just passionate about football and I like talking about it.”
Across Edinburgh, the Hibs defender Ryan Porteous earned a Scotland call-up this week thanks partly to a similarly ruthless approach on the field of play.
“I certainly don't think your persona on the pitch reflects you as a person,” says Halliday. “Ryan Porteous – one thing that’s evident is that he’s very competitive and that comes over in the way he plays the game. He's aggressive. People might not like that.
“I don't think I'm an a******* on the pitch! People might think I am, but when I’m on that green grass I just want to win by any means necessary. It's just having that competitive nature I suppose.”
It’s exactly that Hearts covet as they rebuild following enforced relegation to the Scottish Championship. Halliday’s will to win adds extra impetus in a season when automatic promotion back to the Premiership is a must.
He considered moving to America after being released from Ibrox. He also looked at England and other options in Scotland. There was even a summer stint on the popular Open Goal podcast alongside host Si Ferry.
Talking to the Hearts manager Robbie Neilson on the phone for 45 minutes ultimately proved decisive for the 28-year-old.
“I said I might find my future elsewhere, outside Scotland. That was the case,” he says. “When I was leaving Rangers I was broadening my horizons to see if I could experience abroad or something like that.
“At this period in time, it was difficult for those types of options. It’s well documented there was interest from the MLS but I think it would have been very difficult to get an international visa at at that time.
“Then I started to speak to clubs in England and clubs in Scotland. To be honest, once I spoke to Robbie Neilson and had a good chat with him – I think I was on the phone to him for about 45 minutes – I was immediately interested.
“Hearts are a big club, they’re in a position where they probably shouldn’t be. It’s certainly not a Championship team here. The ambition they have shown was one that appealed to me.”
An imminent return to Hampden Park also holds a certain degree of allure. Hearts meet Hibs in an eagerly-anticipated Scottish Cup semi-final at the end of this month and Halliday is eager to be fully fit by then after months without regular team training.
“I've had a look at it although it's difficult to look too far ahead because it's been a long time since I've played football,” he says. “I know I'm a bit off it and I'm going to try and get to full fitness as soon as possible.
“There's no way to fast-track the process. You just have to work hard and be patient. Of course the Hibs game is a massive occasion. It's one of the biggest derbies in the country so, if I'm fit enough and selected to be a part of it, it's one I'm looking forward to.”
Neilson signed Halliday as a midfielder, although an occasional stint at left-back shouldn’t be ruled out. “He wants me to be a leader in the dressing room,” says the player.
“The challenge appeals to me and I think just the expectation to win every week as well. That’s something I’m used to and something I enjoy.
“Of course, Hearts are going to be the favourites in this league and it’s going to be the case that every team that plays Hearts is going to want to beat them.
“For us, we’ll put expectations and pressure on ourselves to win every game and be competitive in every game.
“Obviously, it’s going to be very difficult to win every single game but we are certainly going to put those pressures and standards on ourselves.
“I’ve already seen from some of the experienced boys they’ve got those standards – the drive day in, day out. I’m going to be a part of that as well.”
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