Yet again, the January transfer window will be a busy time at Riccarton. Hearts manager Craig Levein wants to strengthen several areas of his team and has prioritised a left-back, a winger and a creative midfielder. He will also attempt to move some players on the periphery of his squad out.
The Edinburgh club recruited nine new faces this time last year as then-head coach Ian Cathro sought to put his stamp on the side. He was replaced by Levein in September and this is the 53-year-old’s first chance to recruit since. He will intend to make the most of it with the hope of propelling Hearts towards European qualification.
A new left-back seems absolutely essential. Ashley Smith-Brown’s injury problems may ultimately result in him returning to parent club Manchester City permanently. Rafal Grzelak hasn’t settled on the pitch since arriving from Poland, therefore a number of players have deputised out of position on the left in recent months.
It hasn’t affected Hearts’ defending as they just set a new club record of six successive clean sheets. Nonetheless, Levein has frequently referred to the imbalance of his side down the left flank. He held talks last month with Swedish full-back Gabriel Somi, who then chose to join New England Revolution in America. The manager is certain to address the issue one way or another.
He also wants an attacking midfielder and is still in talks with the German second division club Darmstadt 98 about Jamie MacLaren. The 24-year-old Australian internationalist was capped by Scotland at Under-19 level and can play in the centre-forward role or the No.10 position. Whether a six-month loan is possible depends on negotiations between the two clubs over MacLaren’s substantial salary.
With Jamie Walker the subject of a £300,000 offer from Wigan Athletic, a replacement winger is also on Levein’s radar. The Inverness Caledonian Thistle player Jake Mulraney is available for a nominal fee and spent a trial period at Riccarton last month. Hearts would be keen to bring the 21-year-old in to potentially develop him into a future first-team regular, although any deal is not expected to be finalised until later in the month.
Others who could be moved out to free up squad space and wages include third-choice goalkeeper Victor Noring, who hasn’t featured at all this season. Grzelak and Malaury Martin may also find themselves surplus to requirements depending on Hearts’ transfer dealings over the next four weeks.
It remains to be seen what the future holds for the Polish defender Krystian Nowak, who has been injured recently.