Inside Hearts' recruitment: How players are identified and signings made from Costa Rica to Ross County

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Transfer business has been plentiful in Gorgie this summer

With six signings completed and another almost finalised, Hearts’ summer recruitment drive is akin to a mini juggernaut. Groundwork laid months ago came to fruition with players arriving from across the UK and beyond to supplement Steven Naismith’s already-sizeable squad. Doing business so early and efficiently is no accident.

Hearts count on a team of coaches, data analysts and scouts to identify the right players with suitable attributes and character to make the grade at Tynecastle Park. The famous ground is no place for a shrinking violet, so any newcomer must possess the required attributes. Research into who does and doesn’t tick the correct boxes is extensive to ensure mistakes are kept to a minimum.

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One man who plays a rather understated part in the process is Gordon Forrest, the club’s first-team coach. He assists head coach Steven Naismith and his assistant Frankie McAvoy. Having worked in Canada with Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS and coached in New Zealand, Forrest’s contacts book is filled with interesting names and numbers. It has helped Hearts gather useful information on a number of incoming players in recent years, including the Costa Rican players Kenneth Vargas and Gerald Taylor.

Vargas arrived last summer and Taylor, his international colleague, is close to completing a loan move after jetting into Edinburgh. Forrest explained some detail on how Hearts researched them and ultimately decided to make their move. “In terms of looking at these players' personalities and characters, I had Kendall Watson and Christian Bolanos [at Vancouver], who were both Costa Rican internationals. Kendall Watson plays for Saprissa just now. There are contacts like that where I can easily pick up the phone,” said Forrest.

“He gave us great character references and also the communication - speak to him to speak to the players - because we are trying to entice players here as well. Christian played in three World Cups. There are opportunities to speak to these guys and find out that final detail. We don't want to pluck someone from Costa Rica, bring them over here and they are not prepared to work hard or they might not settle. That's a small part of it.

“The recruitment team do a great job finding the players, speaking to the agents, looking at the details. Myself, Naisy and Frankie have got some really good contacts all over the place - down south and different parts of the world. Japan is a little bit more of a difficult one for us but there are always some people that we can potentially reach out to and it works for us. You are not going to get them all correct but we've had a steady stream of good players and good people coming into the club.”

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Ryan Fulton, James Penrice, Yan Dhanda and Blair Spittal are Hearts’ new signings from within Scotland, Daniel Oyegoke came from English Premier League club Brentford, while Musa Drammeh arrived from Sevilla B in Spain. Taylor will be signing number seven. Every one has been vetted, studied and filtered through a rigorous system to before they are even approached for talks on a possible move to Gorgie.

One of the main attributes Hearts seek is football intelligence. “I think again the game has grown and developed,” said Forrest, speaking in between training sessions at the club’s pre-season camp in Tenerife. “You have access to a lot of data when recruiting players so you can see the distances they cover, the passes they make, how they defend. You can look into every little detail. We have got a set-play model that the manager wants to try and implement, so that recruitment process allows us to look at the data but also visually watch the player as well.

“We can find out in more detail about whether they will hopefully be a fit to the team in their position first and foremost, and how they want to play. We also dive deep into their character and personality as well. That’s through different conversations with different contacts we have across the world within the game. You can see that we have bought Costa Ricans that are coming into the team, our two Japanese players, players from down south, Musa coming from Spain – there is access to good information as well.

“It’s how we manage the squad. Sometimes, with such a large squad, it’s about how you keep everyone happy and motivated to be part of that. We also need a large enough squad to hopefully compete Thursday-Sunday [including European games]. In terms of the intelligence of the player, I think that’s a big part of the game these days. You can find out so much about players but until you’ve really got them in the mix you won’t find out how smart they are.

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“I think you can see from the players we have brought in – some have performed well within the league, different ones coming in from Spain and Costa Rica – it’s a good mix. I think a key part of that is keeping a nucleus from last season. They know what they can do and what they have done for us, and they want to improve as well.

“So I would say, from this camp straight away, in a lot of the practices we have done together, they are coming alive quicker and helping the new guys fit in because they know what we were trying to achieve last season. It’s been a good camp so far. Obviously it’s early days but we are one game in after playing Partick Thistle [in a closed-door friendly] and it will be good to get more games coming up.”

Occasionally there is a need to back away from a prospective signing if he is not exactly what Hearts want. “I think for us as a club and us as a staff, that personality and information and detail if we can access it, is important. We'll look at certain positions, the data coming in and it will flash up that, for example, if it is a wide player, he is great one-against-one and delivers loads of crosses. We then want to dive into how that person is because I think the environment is important.

“We have created a good environment and a good group of players. We have to make sure that player can integrate into the environment and they are a good character. We'll try to do it with our contacts and people we know at clubs to find out a bit more information. The recruitment team and Naisy as well do a great job at speaking to the player.

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“We want to find out about the player but we are also trying to entice the player to the club. He might have other teams that are trying to attract him. It gives us an opportunity to either meet the player face to face or get on a zoom to get that conversation. We're trying to tick as many boxes, not just on the pitch but how they would add to the group as well because it is really important to us.”

Training sessions in Tenerife having both physical and tactical as Hearts coaches try to impart vital information to the new faces in a short space of time. Situations like this are when that football intelligence is essential. “It’s been a good camp so far,” said Forrest. “We have obviously flown out quite early, which allows the boys to be on camp and settle in. I think last year we were delayed with certain players coming in.

“In terms of my input, Naisy gives us roles and responsibilities so we can organise what happens on the pitch and off the pitch and what we need from practices. We’ve got a good group of staff. From our head of performance Bob, Mikey in strength and conditioning, our medical team, the goalkeeping coach Gall, Frankie, Naisy, two analysts – it’s important that we’re all on the same page.

“We are driven to deliver what we set out before we left Edinburgh. There are physical outcomes that we want to try and hit and we’ll see that with the running that they do and the hard work within the sessions. There is also the tactical side of the game, how we want to play and where we can improve. It was a good season last season but we obviously want to improve and integrate the new players as well.

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“There is tactical information mixed in in some days alongside the physical side. It’s changed days for players: they come back in good shape. Their off-season is getting shorter and there are international players but they all look after themselves. It’s different days to running up sand dunes and all that kind of stuff, but we have got a good group.”

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