'I'll make Hearts money': Joe Savage reveals which new Tynecastle signing made cash promise and outlines English Premier League targets
When a prospective new signing arrives in Edinburgh to meet Hearts officials, Joe Savage is invariably the first face they see.
The sporting director takes a personal approach to recruitment along with manager Robbie Neilson. The player in question is taken for a meal, shown the city, Tynecastle Park, the plush facilities at Riccarton, plus a recruitment video specifically showcasing the club.
Not many walk away after that. Beni Baningime and Alex Cochrane are just two wooed by the process over the summer. Barrie McKay may be next if Savage and Neilson get their way.
The thorough approach landed Hearts some quality signings which have helped propel them to the top of the Premiership table. “We’re pleased with the transfer window and we’re still trying to bring in another attacker,” explained Savage. “We were close with two from the Premier League in England, one decided to stay and the other went to another club.
“We managed to bring in the players we wanted to so I’m pleased. I’m not saying I’m absolutely delighted because in a month’s time they might not be doing that well and I’ll be getting absolutely slaughtered!”
The process of convincing a Congo-born Everton midfielder, or a young lad from Brighton, that Gorgie is their future is intriguing. “I’ll tell you a wee story. When I was speaking to Beni when he signed, he said: ‘Joe, you don’t need to worry.’ I replied: ‘What do you mean?’ And he said: ‘I’ve got a point to prove, I’ll make this club money.’
“That’s exactly what you want to hear. Cammy Devlin, who we’ve brought in from Australia, is really enthusiastic and keen to do well. That’s the type we wanted and targeted. We made sure it was quality over quantity and that’s the message we wanted to send out.”
History and tradition
Hearts’ courting procedure hits overdrive from the moment a new player steps off an aircraft or out of a car. “We’ve created a welcome pack that we send to the players and their agents,” added Savage. “We’ve created a recruitment video, it’s about the history, the tradition of the club, the fans.
“For example, there was a lot of interest in Alex Cochrane, and Robbie and I invited him up. We specifically took him for lunch in the city centre so he could overlook the castle. Then we showed him around the stadium and the training ground.
“When he left we knew we had him, that the other clubs interested weren’t going to get him. He believed in what we were doing. He saw the city, the stadium, the video. So we’re not having to sell it too hard, and the ones we have missed out on went for more money or they’ve wanted to stay down south. I’ve not found that too difficult.
“Robbie is also very good. You put Robbie on the phone to them and he sells this club better than anyone. He played here long enough, he managed the club before and is manager again.
“So he’s my secret weapon. You ask him to phone people because you know what works. It’s good me telling them I rate them, but I don’t pick the team, I’m not training them. He has to believe in them and buy into it, and he is brilliant in that sense.
“He speaks to them in a way that the boys want to hear and they understand. He tells them how we’re going to play, how they fit into the system. Off the field we look after them, we have people behind the scenes who are brilliant.
“Our head of operations, Clare Cowan, caters for everything and a lot of them don’t have that at other clubs. Clare will book their trains, flights, look at their flats, hotels. They don’t need to do anything, except come up and be a good footballer.”
Talk is cheap
It is easier to sell a club in the Premiership than the Championship, where Hearts found themselves last season. It helps further when the team is joint-top of that Premiership.
“That's what we're banking on. Who doesn't want to be involved in Hearts v Hibs, live on Sky Sports on a Sunday afternoon. All eyes will be on that. I've been at games in the English Championship with 9,000 fans there at their so-called big teams. I understand what it's like,” said Savage.
“Talk is cheap, it’s how they come up and do on the pitch. We’ve started well but we’ve only played four games, I’m not getting ahead of myself.”
The long-term project is very much in its infancy, but Hearts intend to attract more players of the calibre of Baningime, Devlin and the on-loan Cochrane. Their first-team squad is more streamlined since Neilson arrived. Gradual progress is being made.
“I’d like to think once people see the success and are seeing themselves on live TV and in the papers, they’ll see what we’re trying to do here. The age of the group was too old, we had too many older players, we just felt we had to lower that,” explained Savage.
“Now we have 21, 22, 23-year-olds who are hungry and desperate to do well. They’re all at similar pathways in their careers. We also have a good academy so we have to get that right as well.
“Our under-13s, under-14s, under-15s and under-16s are all in semi-finals and finals. We’re pleased with what is going on behind the scenes. We are pleased with how these players are being developed, but we need to bridge that and get them into the first team as quickly as we can.
“We’ve got a few in just now, Finlay Pollock being the main one. He’s 17 and we feel he has a really good chance to become a top Hearts player but he needs time.”