Joe Savage talks Hearts transfers, Lawrence Shankland, Alan Forrest and Joe Wright during cup final preparation

Sifting through dozens of player names in his Riccarton office, Joe Savage’s Hearts recruitment plan is well underway. The sporting director has many facets to attend to even on Scottish Cup final week.

Friday, 20th May 2022, 7:00 am

Women’s football and the club’s youth academy take up significant time but Savage knows he is, to an extent, judged on signings in his role. Manager Robbie Neilson can focus on Hampden Park tomorrow while Savage continues working on summer targets. Of which there are many.

He takes time out to chat with the Evening News, openly discussing some of those he and Neilson want to lure to Edinburgh. Joint assaults on domestic and European competitions next season demand a larger first-team squad and Savage has been working on potential new arrivals since the January transfer window closed.

Neilson would like to bring the Scotland international forward Lawrence Shankland home from Beerschot having worked with him previously at Dundee United. Savage acknowledged that the Belgian club’s £500,000 asking price is an issue.

“Yeah, I think so. I’m not the type to deny things like that,” he says. “He is someone Robbie and the coaches have worked with before and they think he’s a very good player. He is someone we are aware of. We haven’t opened any discussions or made any offer yet.

“I can see why we’re being linked with him because we do need a striker for next season, no doubt. There’s nothing on that just now. I’m not saying there won’t be, it’s just we haven’t done anything on it yet.”

The former Doncaster Rovers centre-back Joe Wright has an invite to join pre-season training at Riccarton. Hearts agreed to sign him last summer before he suffered knee and ankle damage in Rovers' final game of the campaign. Savage wants the player to take up the invitation.

“Hopefully. We had interest in Joe before his injury,” he explains. “He’s a good lad, a good character and a good player. I think there might be something in that in terms of bringing Joe up to see how he is.

Joe Savage is sporting director at Tynecastle.

“He is interested in coming up and we are interested in having him. We might get a chance to have a look at him and see how he has recovered.”

Talks with Alan Forrest’s representatives are ongoing in an attempt to bring the Livingston winger along the M8. Hearts want that deal concluded but other clubs are competing for Forrest’s signature.

“We’ve had initial talks with his agent. Alan is a player we do like and he is a free agent,” says Savage. “The season is now finished so we will take that up now and see if there’s anything else we can do, or anything else we can offer Alan that he is looking for. I know there is a bit of interest in him, so we are speaking to his agent.”

Selling Hearts to prospective new recruits has probably never been easier. European group-stage football will offer a historic new dimension to the 2022/23 campaign and offers Savage a lucrative carrot to dangle during contract talks.

“We’ve worked hard to get into that position thanks to the players we signed and the guys already here,” he says. “The team and coaches have been brilliant. Players can clearly see there is a methodology about how we play and the structure is there.

“Hearts shouldn’t need to sell itself to anyone. We’re a huge club, a Capital-city club with a great stadium, great training facilities and a wonderful fanbase. When we speak to agents, a lot of them know who we are and what we’re about.

“I’ve never had an agent say: ‘Hearts? Who are they? Where are you? What position are you in?’ They are all aware. We have eight guaranteed European games so we need to increase the squad size.

“We are also losing players – John Souttar is going and a couple of loan boys will go back to their clubs. I wouldn’t put a specific number on how many we will bring in right now because things and change. For example, you don’t know if teams will try to sign our players.

“We’ve got an idea of what we need but it can change every week, to be honest. This is where the recruitment department comes into its own. We have meetings with Robbie and his coaches. My recruitment staff Will [Lancefield] and George [Brown] are doing all they can.

“We have identified the players we want but that’s the easy part. Getting them in is the hard bit – negotiating with the club, the agent, the player to get them to Hearts believing this is the next step in their career. We’re hoping to get some over the line soon.”

Savage’s build-up to Saturday’s final resembles most other weeks at this time of year. “I rely on Robbie a lot. He has been in this position and prepared for games of this magnitude before.

“We’re in constant dialogue, looking at players and a lot of other things. My week is taken up with recruitment or women’s football or the academy. There’s always something to do on top of this being a busy week because of the final.

“We’ve known who we wanted to sign since January. We’ve been speaking to agents and now we can start speaking to players. We are never disrespectful, we don’t really like speaking to players before their season finishes.

“Robbie will meet them, I’ll meet them and their agents, then we will try to invite them up here to see the stadium, the training ground and Edinburgh as a city.”

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