PRINCE BUABEN admits being only 70 per cent fit but the Hearts midfielder is determined to face one of his former clubs tomorrow.
Partick Thistle visit Tynecastle hoping to halt the Jambo juggernaut at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership and Buaben is yearning to take part.
He spent four months on loan at Firhill from Carlisle United last year, making nine starts and two substitute appearances under Alan Archibald. He even played against Hearts on the day their relegation from the Premiership was confirmed – Saturday, April 5, 2014. A few weeks later he was snapped up by the Edinburgh club following a change of manager and owner. The Ghanaian has barely looked back since.
A tight hamstring forced him off early at Ross County last weekend and prevented him training earlier this week. He is some way short of full fitness but will declare himself available for tomorrow’s match. When your team are winning every week and leading the league table, sitting out isn’t easy. Even more so when your old club are in town.
“Yeah, I want to play in this one,” Buaben told the Evening News. “I had a good time at Partick. The manager is a good guy and the players are a good bunch as well. I actually enjoyed my time there. I kept in contact with Gary Fraser but I’m just focusing on winning this game for Hearts. I’m keeping my head down.
“I would say I’m about 70 per cent fit. I’ve had this [hamstring] problem for the past few weeks but any time I rest it’s getting better. It’s all good now and I’m back training. Hopefully I can play against Partick if I’m picked. It’s the manager’s choice.
“The injury first started in Ireland in pre-season. I came on in the second half of a game and just felt something pop. I’ve not had time to rest it with the games coming up. I’ve tried to rest it for a couple of days and then train for a couple of days. We’ll see how it is tomorrow.
“If you look at it, pre-season is never a time to be out. The manager has brought in very good players and you don’t want to be missing out. The team is doing well right now too, so you always want to be available and feeling 100 per cent. These things, if it’s meant to happen then it’s meant to happen. I’m not really worried about it.”
More frustrating is his repetitive failure to complete a full pre-season through little fault of his own. “I’m not 100 per cent. I told the gaffer that, for the past four years, I’ve never done a full pre-season. I’ve had an ankle injury, my thigh, now my hamstring. This year I was hoping to get a full one done but again it didn’t really go my way because there is always something wrong with me. I’ve missed about half of pre-season for the last four years.
“I spoke to the gaffer about it this year and then an injury happened again. It just wasn’t meant to be. I’ve done some running and I feel okay just now. Hopefully the injury clears up 100 per cent and then I can get more game time and get my fitness back. Every player needs games to get fit and that’s the good thing with the gaffer. He gives me game time to get my fitness back. Gradually, I just get through it.”
If selected, Buaben will play a central midfield role tomorrow alongside his close friend Morgaro Gomis. He was used in a traditional No.10 role behind the main striker at Thistle, which didn’t entirely suit his game. “Alan Archibald is the type of manager who wants to play football. He likes to play with a number ten, like the old Dutch style,” said Buaben.
“It’s good to play in a team that plays football and Alan has good players, ideal for the system he plays. It’s going to be a good game for us because both teams like to pass the ball. It should be exciting to watch.”
Buaben’s Carlisle contract expired at the same time his Partick loan ended and he had little choice but to await offers last summer. Hearts invited him on trial and he now finds himself with a contract until 2018 at a club top of the Premiership. It couldn’t have worked out better for the 27-year-old.
“I spoke to my agent when I left Partick and he basically said I had to be patient. Partick didn’t say anything when I left and no-one had made any approach. I just said, ‘if no-one’s made an approach, just leave it and see how things go’. I don’t know why the thing with Partick ended but I wasn’t really down or anything.
“Football is a strange game. You can’t put your head down, you just need to hope for things to happen. If you let your head go down, things start going wrong. I was 100 per cent focused on getting a move somewhere, which I got here at Hearts, so it worked out perfect for me.”
Right now, Robbie Neilson’s team are exceeded the expectations of many people with their 100 per cent league start. Buaben is not one of them, though. “Personally, I’m not surprised how well we’ve done,” he said. “We’ve got good players from last season. If you can play football, you can play in any league. We are doing that now and we have good quality signings in this year. People thought we were going to struggle because we just came up but it’s still the same guys who played in the team last year.
“You don’t want to get carried away saying we’re going to win the league or anything. We’re just going to try our best but I think we can go far. The manager is always positive in his approach and he wants to win something. That’s what the players want and he has put belief in us, which you need from a manager.
“I’m not going to lie, the fans play a huge part in our games as well. We always get a full house at Tynecastle and they turn up in thousands at away games. It’s great for the players. Even when you’re 1-0 down, they give you the confidence to turn games around.”