Robbie Neilson explains why Craig Gordon was 'only choice' for Hearts captain
Robbie Neilson insists it was a straightforward decision to appoint Craig Gordon as Hearts’ captain for the second time in the goalkeeper’s career.
The manager announced at his pre-match media briefing ahead of tomorrow’s campaign-opening Premier Sports Cup tie away to Peterhead that the 38-year-old Scotland internationalist will take over as skipper from Steven Naismith, who recently retired from playing.
Senior players like Craig Halkett, Michael Smith and John Souttar had been touted as contenders for the role, but Gordon, who succeeded Steven Pressley as Hearts captain late in 2006 and wore the armband until his £9million move to Sunderland in August 2007, has been deemed the outstanding candidate to lead the team as they return to the Premiership this season.
Neilson explained why it was a no-brainer to appoint a man who was part of the Scotland squad for this summer’s European Championships.
“He was probably the only choice we had really when you look at the squad,” said the manager. “We had a few other contenders but I think it would have been a surprise if I went for anybody else.
"Craig, for me, is the right pick. I’ve spoken to some of the players and they agree with it and Craig’s delighted to take the armband. I think he’ll be great for us. You can see his leadership qualities. He leads by example, he’s the most experienced player we’ve got in the squad, and he’s still playing at the highest level having just been at the Euros.”
Gordon made his debut for Hearts almost 19 years ago and has accumulated more than 200 appearances across two spells with the club he has supported since childhood.
“I think it’s always important that the captain knows the club and understands what it’s like, and Craig knows everything about the club,” said Neilson, who was a long-term team-mate of Gordon’s in the Noughties.
“He came through as a kid, got the big move to England and played at the highest level down there. He’s won trophies and he’s an internationalist who’s been at the Euros so he’s got a lot of experience to help the younger ones and the senior ones. We’ve had a lot of good captains here over the years and I’m sure Craig will be one as well.”
As well as leading Hearts to a strong season on their return to the top-flight, Neilson hopes his new skipper can remain part of the Scotland set-up as they bid to to follow up their long-awaited appearance at the Euros by qualifying for next year’s World Cup finals in Qatar, which kicks off a month before Gordon turns 40.
“I’ve spoken to him about the Euros and how training was and what he thought about it and he said it was absolutely brilliant just to be part of it,” said Neilson. “He’s desperate to stay in the squad and try and push for a World Cup position, which would be absolutely brilliant for him.”
Scotland recommence their World Cup qualification bid with a triple-header in September with difficult trips to Denmark and Austria either side of the visit of Moldova to Hampden.