ROBBIE NEILSON wants more Hearts players given international recognition to follow Callum Paterson, Jack Hamilton, Faycal Rherras and Arnaud Djoum.
That quartet have broken into their national squads this year as a result of form at club level.
For Neilson, head coach at Tynecastle, it is a case of the more the merrier. Hamilton earned his first Scotland call-up in May when Paterson won his first cap. Rherras has been promoted to the full Morocco squad, whilst Djoum played for Cameroon for the first time last month.
Helping to develop international players is something Hearts are keen to continue as it enhances the quality of their squad.
“Arnaud and Faycal have both been called up again, which is great. It’s a great honour for them both and shows how well they’re doing at this level,” said Neilson.
“We want as many players involved with the countries as we can. You want them to go and play international football, enjoy it and then come back fit as soon as they can after the games.
“That’s the issue we have sometimes because it’s difficult getting these guys back quickly but it’s great for the players. I’m delighted for them. The more internationalists we have, the better. It’s not great on international week because we lose players and they’re at risk of injury playing for their countries. However, the more of them we get, the more quality there is in our squad.
“We now have a Moroccan internationalist, a Cameroon internationalist, a Scotland internationalists, Under-21 internationalists, and we’ve had Dario Zanatta and Marcus Godinho away with the Canada Under-20s. We have kids away with younger age-group Scotland teams. On top of that, Perry Kitchen is in the America squad.”
The more players with international experience, the better Hearts will become in Neilson’s eyes. He believes the evidence of progress is already clear for all to see.
“The standard is rising here. The higher the standard goes, the better the players we’ll be able to attract because we have that quality here already. The standard of player that wants to come to Hearts now is improving.”
The contrast in the level of player available to Hearts now compared to two years ago is not lost on Neilson. He was appointed head coach in summer 2014 and admits it was initially a massive challenge to persuade signing targets to come to Tynecastle.
The club had just been ravaged by administration and found themselves playing in the Championship after being relegated from Scotland’s top flight.
“Two years ago, we were in the Championship and we found it difficult signing people,” said Neilson. “Even though we’d come out of administration, it was difficult because that [unstable] period had just passed. Also, we were playing the Championship so players didn’t really want to come here.
“We got promoted to the Premiership and players were looking at it and saying: ‘Yes, you’ve come up but where are you going to be? Will you be a team that struggles or will you be up towards the top?’
“This year was a bit easier. We’d got ourselves into a good position in the league last year, qualified for Europe, recruited well and then the new facilities opened up [at Riccarton]. Now you’re showing potential signings that you’re a top-end Scottish team with great facilities. It really helps the recruitment.”
Players like Djoum, Paterson, Kitchen and Rherras will inevitably attract interest from bigger clubs, but that scenario is one Neilson also welcomes.
“Scouts come and watch your players but, when you play up near the top end of the league, that’s always going to happen. It’s part of football,” he commented.