Connor Randall rejoins iconic superstars like Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah and Sadio Mane at Liverpool in July. He will front up at the Melwood training complex with the appropriate heavy heart, though.
Leaving Tynecastle after a season-long loan will be more difficult than perhaps the player expected. Hearts have given him regular first-team football, a platform to showcase his talents and invaluable experience for a 22-year-old.
He has made 26 appearances with four games left of the Scottish Premiership campaign and fully intends reaching 30 before bidding Edinburgh farewell. Randall was informed last week by Hearts manager Craig Levein that he won’t be invited back next year. All good things must come to an end.
The decision does not reflect his form at right-back, where he has been assured and dependable for months. It is simply the case that Hearts are overcrowded in that position. Michael Smith, Jamie Brandon and Marcus Godinho are all right-sided full-backs, plus Liam Smith is due back from a loan spell at St Mirren in June.
That creates the rather peculiar situation of a contracted Liverpool player being surplus to requirements at Hearts.
“I could see it coming, to be fair. I know there are other positions Hearts are looking to strengthen and I know there are some good right-backs here already. It wasn’t a massive surprise,” said Randall, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“It’s been a great experience and I’ve fully enjoyed being at Hearts. I’ve enjoyed playing for this club and I’m leaving with some fond memories. I’m glad I came here.
“I’m sad to go because it’s a great club with a great set of fans and a really good group of lads. Hearts are going in the right direction and I think there are some exciting times ahead for them.
“I think next season could be a good season and I hope it’s a successful one for them. I wish them all the best for the future and I’ll definitely be sad when I’m leaving.
“We had our end-of-season reviews the other day and the gaffer told me he was pleased with me. In any other situation, he said he would’ve tried to keep me. He said he needs other players in other positions. There are a lot of right-backs at the club at the moment so it’s just a case of timing. That’s football.”
If he is feeling slightly melancholy, sitting down tonight to watch his Liverpool colleagues tackle Roma in the Champions League semi-finals should perk him up. Randall’s Anfield contract runs until summer 2019 and he knows he faces an almighty challenge to command a place in Jurgen Klopp’s squad.
A year at Hearts let him show what he can do over a sustained period of time. “That was the plan. Hopefully some performances this season have shown what I can do and if other people have seen it, then great,” he said.
“All you can do is concentrate on performing and, if something comes of it, then great. I’m hoping that happens in the summer.”
He is realistic enough to know another loan for next season is a strong possibility. In that sense, he is well prepared after an eventful time in Scotland. He was signed by Hearts as a midfielder, then head coach Ian Cathro was sacked and he reverted to right-back under Levein.
“It’s been a lot about adapting. When I first came in, there was a lot going on,” recalled Randall. “I was just happy to get a full season of proper football. Your body adapts. I had a few niggling injuries in the first half of the season but that’s just the body getting used to the training and playing each week. I’m feeling stronger for it now.
“It’s been valuable experience that I wouldn’t have had. Being a young player, you’ve got to get that experience under your belt. People look for players who have played games. It’s important you build your CV, so wherever you go you want to play. I managed to get a decent number of appearances this season, which I’ve been pleased with.
“We’ve got four games left now so I’m not quite done yet. We need to bounce back and improve on Sunday’s performance at Rangers. We know we can play better than that. We have a few big games left and hopefully we can finish on a high for the fans.”
Then it’s the daunting task of fighting for a place back at Liverpool. “It’s a great squad, as everyone knows, and the team are doing really well. I’ll just concentrate on myself, go back there in the summer and see what happens. I’ll keep myself ready for whatever is next for me. That’s all you can do, stay fit and strong. I want to get myself in a team somewhere next year and make sure I’m playing football again. That’s all I want to do, play games.”
Would he do another loan?
“Yes, 100 per cent. The experience and games are vital. If you want to grow as a player and a person, this move has done both for me. It’s something I’ll keep with me to look back on and use the learning curve. I’ll take what I learned at Hearts with me no matter where my next step is.”