Hearts stood widely accused of lacking energy and fitness last season. Ryan Edwards is about to run that theory into the ground. Literally.
For the past three years, GPS data at Partick Thistle listed one player above all others. Edwards’ physical condition left his peers standing and former Firhill team-mate Callum Booth expects no difference at Riccarton.
The most recent of eight new Hearts signings, Edwards was scouted for the attitude and application he displayed at Thistle over the past three seasons. Adding those commodities to the Tynecastle midfield was one of manager Craig Levein’s top priorities this summer.
When the 24-year-old Australian invoked a relegation release clause in his Partick contract last month, Levein moved instantly to secure one of the most dynamic footballers in the country.
“The first impressions the Hearts boys get of him will be good because he’s one of the fittest guys I’ve come across. He will be blowing a few people away in pre-season, I imagine,” explained Booth, who recently left the Maryhill club to join Dundee United.
“He was the fittest player at Partick last season by a mile and stood out in all the testing we go through.
“I’m putting a bit of pressure on him saying he’ll be the fittest at Hearts but he will be right up there. He is a good professional, he has a good attitude and he does all the right things off the pitch. I think he is probably just naturally fit. There’s nothing magic he does in the gym or anything. He’s just fortunate, I suppose.
“His main asset is his energy. He closes people down and gets in their faces. When he gets on the ball he has good quality. I think the Hearts fans will take to him because of that energy and work-rate.”
And, in light of those allegations about the squad being underprepared for the campaign which lay ahead of them 12 months ago, Booth is adamant Edwards will succeed.
“Ryan is the exact opposite of that. If that’s what the Hearts fans have been saying, you can see why Levein has gone for him. He’s exactly his type,” added Booth. “He is in your face and works hard – one of those players who will cover every blade of grass.
“When you look at our GPS stats for how much distance we cover in matches, Ryan is top of the list in every single game. There is no doubt he will put a shift in.”
Where that shift will be is unclear as yet. Edwards spent much of his time with Thistle as a holding central midfielder but can operate further forward. Hearts may seek to marry his energy to the cultured passing of another new midfield recruit, Olly Lee.
“Ryan is pretty versatile,” stated Booth. “He played as one of the two central midfielders at Partick Thistle in the first half of last season. Then he moved into a No.10 role. He can play deeper or a bit further forward. Personally, I would probably say he’s better playing deeper as more of a central midfielder rather than an attacking one.”
Relegation hit Thistle hard as players began filtering out of the exit door. Booth, Edwards and others decided to continue their careers elsewhere and the Australian youth internationalist managed to stay in the Premiership by heading east.
As a former Hibs defender, Booth knows well the intensity of football in the Capital. He feels a spell at Reading earlier in Edwards’ career will stand him in good stead.
“The scrutiny is a lot more in Edinburgh but I think he’ll be okay with it. He has been at a big club before in Reading,” said Booth. “I know he loves living in Glasgow but I think he used to go through to Edinburgh on some of his days off. He will love living there and he’ll relish being at a bigger club, no disrespect to Partick.
“He was happy at Partick. After he was let go by Reading, he trained with a couple of teams and it wasn’t to be for whatever reason. The gaffer [Alan Archibald] took him in but he didn’t play too much in the first season. The manager then rewarded him with a new deal and Ryan was grateful to the club for that. He never said he was looking to move on, although when relegation happens things change.”
Edwards is another new recruit who fits the mould Hearts want. His character and approach are those of someone who does his work diligently and with minimum fuss. Levein wants players who harbour a team ethic over individualism and spends a great deal of time researching signing targets for that reason.
That rationale works in reverse, too. Some players have been moved on by Hearts because their attitude in the dressing-room hasn’t been what the club desire. It seems there is little chance of Edwards not conforming.
“He definitely fits that bracket. Ryan has a good attitude and isn’t one for kicking up a fuss if he isn’t in the team. He doesn’t do a lot of moaning,” explained Booth. “He is genuinely a nice guy who is easy to get along with. He is always bouncing into training because he’s a morning person. He just has that energy on the pitch and off it and he doesn’t cause disruption in the camp.”
Edwards may simply be content to leave any disputes to others while he runs off ahead to study the squad’s latest GPS results.