Joe Savage talks Premiership title ambitions at Hearts and his future as sporting director

A perennial theme when talking to Joe Savage is relentless ambition. He doesn’t hide it and isn’t afraid to discuss it, making for refreshing conversations on all Hearts matters.

Friday, 17th June 2022, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 17th June 2022, 8:55 am

The club’s sporting director is busy working to improve the first-team squad along with manager Robbie Neilson. He knows another big season lies ahead despite the last one ending just a few short weeks ago. You get the impression he enjoys the intensity.

Savage spent years scouting in both Scotland and England with Hamilton Academical, Norwich City and Preston North End. This is his first sporting director role and he is relishing the responsibility of trying to drive Hearts to new heights.

Many people involved in Scottish football feel Celtic and Rangers are too far ahead and completely unattainable for the rest of the country’s clubs. Some believe the so-called “big two” might even have outgrown the Premiership. Not Savage. Any such theory surfacing at Riccarton would be swiftly crumpled and fired in the bin.

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He acknowledges the progress our game has made recently and attributes a fair chunk of it to Rangers’ exploits in last season’s Europa League, plus the effect of Ange Postecoglou as Celtic manager. Don’t tell him the Glasgow teams are untouchable, though.

Eighteen months into his job with Hearts, Savage’s recruitment has had a transformational impact at Tynecastle Park. He joined whilst the club were in the Championship and has been heavily involved in signing influential players like Beni Baningime, Ellis Simms, Barrie McKay and Cammy Devlin.

Along with existing mainstays like Craig Gordon, Stephen Kingsley, Craig Halkett and Liam Boyce, they helped restore the Edinburgh club as Scotland’s third force in the Premiership. Yet the sporting director isn’t satisfied.

The next aim is to get closer to Celtic and Rangers. Ultimately, Savage hopes to see Hearts challenging for the league title. He is realistic enough to know that will take years if it is ever to happen, but his view is that aiming high produces the best results.

Hearts sporting director Joe Savage pictured at Tynecastle.

He also harbours personal ambitions to further his own career in time. For now, he is perfectly settled in the Capital and thriving on Hearts’ resurgence.

“You never know what's round the corner. At the moment, I'm really happy here with the club, how they treat me, the staff, the players, backing from the board and what we're trying to do,” he says.

“This has been absolutely brilliant for me. My ambition is to win. I want to win cups and I want to try to win the league. I know that sounds like I could be deluded but why would I be here otherwise?

“I'm massively ambitious and I want to see what we can do. The potential at this club is massive and I think we could really push, but we know there are two clubs in this country that are real institutions.

Kye Rowles in action for Australia during their 2022 FIFA World Cup play-off victory over Peru. Picture: Getty

“They are top-level clubs and we aspire to reach them, try to compete with them, then split them and then beat them. That's the hope. As far as my future, I love it here. It's a great club with great people to work with and work for. The fans are brilliant and I'm treated well.”

Coaches and other staff members at Riccarton have helped smooth Savage’s transition from scout to sporting director. New analysts changed the recruitment process at all levels, while the women’s team and youth academy get a considerable amount of his attention.

The first team remains a priority; the yardstick by which any club is judged. On the evidence of last season when Hearts finished third in the Premiership, reached the Scottish Cup final and secured guaranteed European group stage football, no-one can deny this is a prosperous time in Gorgie.

“You are only as good as the staff around you and I've inherited good staff at Hearts,” admits Savage. “I didn't know Robbie and his coaches before I came here. We quickly formed a good relationship.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson and sporting director Joe Savage are set for a busy summer. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

“The performance department – Bob McCunn, big Mikey Williams, the physios, Clare Cowan, the head of operations – I've been fortunate with all of them. I always wanted this sort of role. I believed in myself that I could do it and at the moment it has worked out as well as it could have. I've been absolutely delighted with it.”

An overall improvement in the Scottish game in conjunction with Hearts’ revival makes it slightly easier to attract new players to Tynecastle. Three have signed up already – defenders Kye Rowles and Lewis Neilson, plus winger Alan Forrest.

More will arrive soon as Savage is currently pursuing several other targets. It’s all part of a grand plan to build on last season.

“I think Scottish football is on the up, probably helped by Rangers' run in Europe and Ange Postecoglou doing so well at Celtic. That has raised the profile,” he says. “I also think Robbie and the way we have played is a factor.

“We were guaranteed third place before the split. We knew we were always going to be in that position. Then the aim was to get to the Scottish Cup final and try to win it.

“On the whole, the game here is on the up and we have definitely played our part in that. We need to thank the other teams in the league for doing their bit. It means we are a much more attractive proposition for players to come and sign.”

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