Recruitment a touchy subject but Hearts are shaping up to sign several players in specific positions
A crucial summer lies ahead for Hearts as they rejoin the Scottish Premiership following an enforced year-long hiatus.
Recruitment is a touchy subject around Tynecastle Park and Riccarton right now after too many signing mistakes in recent years. For that reason, there will be intense scrutiny around new arrivals with fans demanding better quality overall.
Several players will be brought in during the coming weeks to augment existing mainstays like Craig Gordon, Michael Smith, Stephen Kingsley, Aaron McEneff and Liam Boyce.
There is no doubt Hearts possess a number of players able to succeed in the top flight. However, the need more of them – the type of players who will stroll into Riccarton undaunted and confident of adding their own individual quality to the group.
With Gordon in tremendous form and pushing to be named Scotland No.1 for the European Championship, there is no need to look at anyone else. Ross Stewart’s loan move from Livingston was converted into a permanent transfer earlier this month, with teenager Harry Stone progressing nicely below them.
In defence, Christophe Berra needs replaced at centre-back as he heads off to join Raith Rovers. The 36-year-old’s experience will be a loss among the squad but one of Hearts’ priorities is to identify younger talent.
Manager Robbie Neilson and sporting director Joe Savage are already perusing potential targets in Berra’s position. They would like a left-sided central defender if possible but those are a rarity, particularly one that falls within Hearts’ budget.
John Souttar, Craig Halkett and Mihai Popescu are all right-footed so, in the interests of balance, a left-footer would be the preference. At full-back, Michael Smith and Stephen Kingsley are pretty much nailed-on automatic starters when fit, and should remain so next year.
Midfield is likely to be the department undergoing most change. Harry Cochrane’s departure was announced last month after he rejected a new contract at Tynecastle. It remains to be seen if Andy Irving follows suit. He is officially still undecided about whether to accept the deal on the table as his current agreement expires.
A creative central midfielder is wanted to supplement others like Peter Haring, Andy Halliday and McEneff. Promising teenagers like Scott McGill and Finlay Pollock will be on the periphery with the Edinburgh club keen to nurture more youngsters.
Loic Damour remains one of Hearts’ highest-paid players but the Frenchman is well out of the first-team picture and is free to leave if he can find a new club.
He hasn’t made an appearance since Robbie Neilson returned to Tynecastle as manager and last donned a maroon shirt in March 2020. Nonetheless, he is only halfway through a four-year contract.
Club captain Steven Naismith also has two years remaining on his deal. At 34, he may not be a regular starter for Hearts in the Premiership.
With Elliott Frear released at the end of his contract and Gervane Kastaneer returned to parent club Coventry City, there are voids to fill in wide areas. Gary Mackay-Steven and Jamie Walker will have roles to play, but Neilson also hopes to sign Josh Ginnelly permanently and there could be another winger added.
Liam Boyce and Armand Gnanduillet will hope to hone their striking partnership and don’t bet against another forward arriving to add competition.