Having scouted Kenny Anderson as a possible Scotland Under-21 recruit, Billy Stark believes Hearts have made an astute signing in the 22-year-old.
Stark recalled watching a stylish and energetic player in the RKC Waalwijk midfield last season and gave serious consideration to naming him in his international squad.
Anderson signed an 18-month contract at Tynecastle yesterday, where Robbie Neilson and his coaching staff feel he can develop further. Stark is of the same opinion. He spent almost seven years as a Scottish Football Association youth coach before resigning last November and has a keen eye for potential within a player.
The reason he didn’t call up the Dutchman with the Dundonian father for Scotland Under-21 duty was down to prodigious talents like Stuart Armstrong and Kenny McLean. Anderson had represented Scotland at under-16 and under-17 level but did not achieve an under-21 cap. Nonetheless, Stark expects him to progress at Hearts as a midfielder with sound technique and a penchant for high-tempo football.
“Armstrong and McLean were in the squad at the time and I didn’t feel Anderson was any better than them, but he is a decent player,” Stark told the Evening News.
“I went over to watch him a few times to get a look at him for the Scotland Under-21s. Mark Wotte, who was SFA performance director, has a big knowledge of the Dutch game and he put his name to us initially.
“We actually played a tournament in Holland for under-20 players [in 2013] and we would have had a look at Anderson there, but we couldn’t get the paperwork done. That would’ve been ideal because it was in The Hague. He came to meet us there and seemed a decent lad.
“He’s quite a mobile midfield player and he did quite well in the matches I saw. His club ended up getting relegated under the coach at the time, Erwin Koeman, who is now assistant manager at Southampton. He was in and out of the team a bit, although he did score a couple of goals which raised his profile a wee bit. He is a good player and he’ll do well for Hearts, for sure.”
Anderson’s instinct is to attack from the middle of the park and in that sense he should provide an able-bodied replacement for Jason Holt, who left Hearts on Friday to join Sheffield United on loan. Stark’s visits to the Waalwijk’s Mandemakers Stadion saw him struck by Anderson’s discipline and desire to move the ball quickly around the pitch.
He also noted the player’s ability to infiltrate attacks and get himself into the penalty box when possible. He will compete against several already-established midfielders at Hearts, like Prince Buaben, Morgaro Gomis and Miguel Pallardo, but that forward-thinking instinct could well set Anderson apart from others at Riccarton.
“The Dutch game is very technical. You could see he was well coached in terms of getting into the team shape and doing his defensive job for the team,” said Stark.
“He stopped balls getting through to strikers through the midfield line, that type of thing. He had good awareness of that.
“He wasn’t the type who got the ball and dictated the play. He wasn’t going to take possession and spray the ball about and control the tempo. He didn’t take many touches, but I suppose box-to-box is one way to describe him.
“On the defensive side, he was back sitting on the edge of the final third and when his team sprung a counter-attack he was quick to get forward. He would try to get on the end of things in the penalty box. Anderson is a very defined type of midfield player. To play in the Eredivisie in Holland, anyone has to be technically good, so there won’t be any questions about him in that sense.”
Arriving in Edinburgh should present no huge challenges for a player who has regularly visited family in the east of Scotland during his lifetime. Born and raised in the southern Dutch town of Gorinchem, around 20 miles south-east of Rotterdam, Anderson often spent Christmas and New Year in Scotland with relations of his Dundee-born father. His mother is Dutch-Indonesian.
He grew up playing in the RKC Waalwijk youth academy from the age of ten and, save for a brief loan spell with Willem II, remained loyal to his formative club. The move to Hearts offers a fresh start and a possible league winners medal if the club can see through their promotion tilt and return to the Scottish Premiership.
A few months in the second tier first will, according to Stark, give the player some important time to find his feet and settle into Scottish football. It is not expected to be a long process, though. “It’s a permanent contract and he will take a bit of time to get settled, but it will help him having six months in the Championship with Hearts to do that,” continued the 58-year-old Stark.
“I think the fact that he isn’t the type to take a lot of touches on the ball means he won’t get frightened by the tempo of the game here in Scotland. His game is always about fitting into a team and I’m sure he’ll be able to do that at Hearts without needing too much time.”