Robert Snodgrass' influence at Hearts: Man City factor, captaincy and what he tells team-mates

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Football is a constant learning process for Robert Snodgrass, even at 35 with English Premier League and international education behind him. He still watches the best for tips on a new position at Hearts.

A No.10 or wide man most of his life, Snodgrass is now a deep-lying, tempo-dictating midfielder. He uses experience at clubs like West Ham United, Norwich City and Leeds United to guide him. There is also room to learn from people currently excelling in that role.

“There are loads. You look at the top ones, your Rodris, in that position. He doesn’t do anything fancy,” said Snodgrass, who captained Hearts in Friday’s Scottish Cup win at Hamilton with Lawrence Shankland suspended. “He keeps it so simple but he is so effective at keeping the ball moving, keeping the flow going and creating a bit of variety.

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“He plays in the pockets, wide, advanced. The biggest thing I’ve been disappointed in with myself is I’ve not got enough assists from set pieces. I’m trying my best to put it in those areas. Hopefully I can go on a wee bit of a run to create more assists.

“I try to watch a lot of players in that position. I’m still learning, even at 35. I want to try to be the best I can be. My biggest job is getting the lads to trust that I can deal with it, even if I’ve got a man on me. A lot of teams are playing now with somebody in advance, just sort of sitting on us, but that’s part and parcel of football. You need to be able to show that you can take it with a man on you and still try to play.”

Clearly never content, always looking to develop and improve. It is the secret to success in any sport and one which underlines Snodgrass’ leadership skills. “It’s great [being captain]. I’ve been captain at a few places,” he said. “Lawrence has done a great job and before him Craigy [Gordon]. It was good to get into the next round but to get the armband and get a win was nice. It doesn’t make any difference to my game. I don’t really approach things any different. I try to do a lot of the leadership stuff anyway, whether I’ve got the armband or not. I just try to support the lads as much as possible.”

In the twilight of his impressive career, Snodgrass harbours a clear desire to lift silverware. Hearts’ reaching the Scottish Cup quarter-finals takes him one step closer to a Hampden Park showpiece. “That’s one of the reasons I came here. We want to try and advance. The manager had spoken about Friday’s game being on TV, the travelling fans and how we wanted to give them something to cheer about. It’s already ingrained into the club to try and do well in the cups. You feel that as soon as you come in.

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“The fans support us tremendously well. At home, there are waiting lists to get tickets. Away from home, they maximise what they can take. What a bunch, man. You have to take your hat off to them. Fair play to them. It was Friday night, pouring down, and they were still there chanting. It was important for us to get the victory and get into the next round for them.

Robert Snodgrass is enjoying life in his first season at Hearts.Robert Snodgrass is enjoying life in his first season at Hearts.
Robert Snodgrass is enjoying life in his first season at Hearts.

“As I said, it’s ingrained in the club that they do well in the cups. It’s been no different since I came in to try and be a little shoulder from an experience point of view. The lads have been terrific. You try to get them to see that there is a chance. All teams will be believing at this stage.”

Hearts are one of the favourites to lift the trophy but Celtic and Rangers remain the benchmark. The current Riccarton squad carries the kind of strength in depth that encourages fans to believe.

“You’ve got lads signed in January – [Yutaro] Oda came on and showed how sharp he was, young Garang [Kuol] has been patient. He’s still young,” Snodgrass pointed out. “James Hill [on loan from Bournemouth] has got aspirations to play in the Premier League. You look at that young kid and think, Jesus. He studies the game, he watches the game, he asks loads of questions and wants to get better.

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“What a tremendous attitude he has, coming from the Premier League so grounded. I actually played against his dad [Matt]. That tells you how old I am. That’s what we need, players coming in with that Premier League quality. There are some very good players in that final third that can cause teams problems.”

Hearts continue to etch out results without peak performances and Hamilton was the latest example. “In the league, probably the [5-0] Aberdeen game was when we were at our most fluent. At Easter Road, we weren’t at our fluent best but we still dug out a 3-0 result which was great. I said that to the lads and the management team. The way we play, we are so expansive but we can’t be free-flowing and creating loads of chances every week because teams are starting to understand us and are pressing us.

“We maybe didn’t trust ourselves enough to try and play through the lines. It’s a respect they are giving us now as we are getting towards that 60-70 per cent possession stage and trying to control the game. We’re going to get that in stages. That’s when real characters show, when you are under pressure.

“You need to take the ball and try to play through into those danger zones. We believe we’ve got players who can cause teams problems. Sometimes you go through that wee sticky run but if you are still winning games, it’s still a good feeling.

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“I say that to the boys all the time – don’t ever get sick of winning. Winning is the best feeling in the world. Especially when you are preparing week-to-week, away from your family, putting that hard work in. To get a win at the end of it is really sweet.”