Ryotaro Meshino: Hearts fans are hardcore, that’s why I signed

Hearts have had no shortage of new signings arrive amid a wave of hype in recent years. There was plenty fanfare, for instance, when each of Juwon Oshaniwa, Kyle Lafferty, Sean Clare and David Vanecek checked into Tynecastle.

Saturday, 31st August 2019, 6:30 am
Ryotaro Meshino is unveiled at Tynecastle

None of the above, however, had a mini media scrum waiting to greet them upon arrival at Edinburgh Airport. And none of them had four journalists from their homeland make the journey to Edinburgh especially to be at their unveiling media conference in Gorgie, as was the case for Ryotaro Meshino yesterday. The 21-year-old Japanese playmaker’s arrival in the Capital, on a season-long loan from Manchester City, has the genuine feel of a coup for Hearts.

Crucially, the player seems delighted to be in Edinburgh, even though it was only a few weeks ago that he experienced the giddying thrill of landing a life-changing move to City from his formative club Gamba Osaka. When meeting journalists in Tynecastle’s impressive new Skyline Lounge late yesterday afternoon, Meshino spoke predominantly through his agent, who doubled up as his translator for the day.

In such instances, when interviews are carried out via a third party, generating any flow of conversation or drawing any depth from the subject matter can be difficult. However, there was an illuminating moment in the exchange when Meshino let his personality shine through as he sporadically uttered in English “hurry up, hurry up, hurry up”, with a big smile across his face and a glint in his eye. This was him conveying how he felt during the protracted process of securing a work permit that would allow him to join Hearts. Further underlining his eagerness to get the move signed and sealed, he said, through his agent: “For one week, two weeks I couldn’t sleep! The wait was killing me. For those two weeks, because we had to get the work permit, get the passport, I wanted to come to Edinburgh every day. Finally I’m here.”

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Meshino had talks with other clubs in Europe but feels joining Hearts offers him an opportunity to adapt to British football and enhance his chances of one day playing for City. He has already seen Hearts at their worst – when he attended the grim 0-0 draw against Ross County three weeks ago – but believes he can thrive amid the passion of Tynecastle. “I am very happy to be here,” said Meshino. “I visited a lot of clubs throughout Europe and we got a similar presentation from all the clubs. But Hearts picked out my strengths and things I could improve on and I feel good about this. I believe Hearts can help me improve.

“I was here for the Ross County game and I can imagine that I can help make a difference in the team. The supporters at Hearts are very hardcore and are very passionate. My big goal is to play for Manchester City, of course. But this is my first season playing in Europe and I think that everyone at Hearts, the coach and the assistant coaches, have made me feel positive that they will help me improve. I just want to play and concentrate on Hearts.”

Meshino believes he will bring “unique” qualities to Tynecastle. “I like the No.10 position,” he said, explaining what type of player he is. “I like to receive the ball in tight spaces and turn towards goal to make assists and score goals. I like to make the difference near the penalty box.”

Despite Meshino’s slight frame, manager Craig Levein is adamant his new recruit is robust enough to handle the aggressive side of Scottish football. “I’m not worried about that, he’s a tough boy,” Levein said ahead of Meshino’s likely debut against Hamilton Accies this afternoon. “Some of the footage from the games out there, he gets booted but he gets up and gets on with it. Man City did all the tests and they were really surprised how strong he is. He’s small but he’s very strong.

“I have to temper any excitement because there is always a human element when you sign a player. The level of expectation has to be managed. I’m hopeful he’ll hit the ground running against Hamilton and thrill everybody in the stadium. But I’m prepared for him not doing that. The thing I do know is that he will do at some point.”

Levein is encouraged by the fact Meshino still wanted to come to Hearts even after seeing supporters turn on the team following the County flop earlier this month. “I knew he was hugely keen after we brought him to the Ross County game and he still wanted to come,” said the manager. “Believe it or not, that told me something. He loves the atmosphere, which is interesting as well. He talked about a moment in the second half when Aidy White beat a few players and the crowd responded and that excited him because that’s what he does. I think the game taught him that football here matters as well.

“If you’re playing in the top league in Japan you maybe think the top league in Scotland isn’t the most exciting place to play. But I think the emotion of the fans and the stadium, it always feels better to play football in a place that matters. It matters here and he felt that during the game, which was exciting for me. He understands our fans expect to win and he feels he is someone who can help us win, so let’s see what happens.”