Robert Snodgrass exclusive: New Hearts signing reveals fitness, next career step and Andy Carroll factor
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He is 35 and just finished a summer training with former England striker Andy Carroll and ex-Liverpool forward Adam Morgan. Signing a contract at Tynecastle Park until the end of the season brings a push towards optimum fitness on familiar territory.
Snodgrass is originally from Glasgow and emerged as a prodigious teenager at Livingston in 2003. He has based himself in Edinburgh after returning north from 14 largely illustrious years in English football.
The idea is to utilise Hearts’ training facilities every day to improve fitness. Starting UEFA’s B Licence coaching course in the same Oriam Scotland complex provides extra motivation, although he is careful to stress it is not a distraction.
He offers talismanic qualities even in the latter phase of his career and is eager to display them in maroon. Tomorrow’s lunchtime meeting with Rangers would be an ideal time to start.
“To join when the lads are eight to ten games in, there is a level of catch-up. You use your experience to try and get into the best possible position. It’s tough,” says the midfielder.
“I can’t play in the European games and I can’t play in the B team either. Minutes is what you want. I’m trying to do two and three sessions daily. Once you get the minutes, that’s the most important thing.
“I’m working with Bob [McCunn], the head of performance, and Mike [Williams], the strength and conditioning coach. There is a lot of conditioning work, which is exactly what I need. It’s like a mini pre-season.
“I hadn’t done any proper training in more than three months. It was a bit of a lay-off so I’m just trying to get back up to speed. My last game was in May. I just need a bit of time to get some minutes.”
Which begs the question: How fit are you, exactly? “I’ve done everything you need to do before playing games. Now it’s about matches. I had a similar situation at Luton last season. When the games started, I felt myself going through the gears. I want to be creating and scoring goals and that mindset will never change.
“The manager has been straight up and clear. You need a base level through training and that’s what I’ve been doing. Then it’s up to me to get myself right for when the chances come.
“I’ve really enjoyed the city and living here. I’m doing my B Licence for coaching just now so the Scottish FA are helping with that. There will be longer nights ahead doing the coaching. It’s a long-term project for me to work through, playing and focusing on the later part of your career. First, I’m here as a player and I want to be the best version of myself.”
As a former Scotland internationalist whose CV includes Leeds United, West Ham United and Aston Villa among other reputable English sides, Snodgrass was wanted throughout the summer on both sides of the Border.
He hung on and waited believing he needed the right type of challenge. “I wasn’t at a club so I didn’t have access to pitches. I was trying to hire pitches,” he explains. “I did some side-training with Adam Morgan and Andy Carroll. You need team-training which is focused and pitch-based.
“Any lad who is out of contract will tell you that your window really opens as the proper transfer window closes. Clubs have so many other options when the window is open. There was some talk about Hearts along with six or seven other things.
“I just felt this was the right fit. I know a lot of the lads and I felt this was where I wanted to go. I got that feeling instantly. I’ve been down south for such a long time and wanted to get a change. Take yourself out of what you’ve known for years and challenge yourself.
“I’m back where it started for me in Scotland. I left a boy and came back a man. Now I have experience to help the next bunch of young lads.”
Hearts are about to embark on the most demanding and intense period in their history. Rangers’ visit is the first of 12 games inside six weeks, so Snodgrass will hope to get some of the minutes he craves.
“We are third in the league on merit and playing in Europe. That’s what this club wants. If you want to achieve, you need to beat the best. Celtic and Rangers have dominated Scottish football for years so you want to beat these teams.
“I just wish I was able to play in the European games to get some minutes but the games are coming thick and fast.”
There will be no-one happier than the new lad if Hearts pull off a surprise and qualify from Europa Conference League Group A. He could then be registered for the knockout phase. “I told the lads that’s the aim,” smiles Snodgrass.
Whatever comes of this season at Tynecastle, he fully intends a long career in football. “I want to go into coaching. I’ve been at some good clubs, got good experience and good contacts. Just because you’ve played doesn’t mean you will be a good coach. It doesn’t matter. You need to put the work in and I’m willing to do that.”
It’s hard to envisage the young Snodgrass who started at Livingston one day entering management. “Yeah, it’s hard to visualise. When you’re young, you are in a bit of a bubble. You take everything the manager says to heart.
“Then you get older and see the bigger picture. They are trying to get teams and combinations right – right-backs and right midfielders, two centre-backs, loads of things. Sometimes you’re in the team and sometimes you aren’t.
“I think you are judged more when you are out of the team because it’s then about how you react, your body language and how you conduct yourself.”