Suitcases zipped shut, waiting for the call to head to the airport. When David Vanecek packed his bags away in late August, little did he know he would endure four frustrating months before getting to Scotland.
Hearts’ new striker is now in Spain having finally completed his pre-contract move to Tynecastle Park. It is a move Vanecek was convinced he would make before the summer transfer window closed, only for former club FK Teplice to insist he stayed in his native Czech Republic.
He signed the pre-contract agreement with Hearts in July and believed a quick-fire transfer would then materialise. Tynecastle officials pushed hard during the final days of the window but Teplice resisted, desperate to keep hold on to their prize asset until his contract expired on December 31.
Finally in situ at Hearts’ plush winter training base near Murcia, Vanecek sat down to reflect on months of waiting and outlined his relief that it is all over.
“It has taken a long, long time for me to get here. I stayed focus and tried to do my best for my club throughout the autumn. Now I am ready to show just why Hearts were so keen to bring me here,” said the 27-year-old.
“It was very close. I thought something was going to happen before the deadline in August. My bags were packed, everything was ready to go from my side, I was prepared. Then Teplice told me they wanted me to finish my contract there and help the team. I was very disappointed because when I signed my contract I really wanted to come to Hearts straight away.
“It was tough to go back to Teplice and concentrate on playing there once more. I had to be professional but it was difficult knowing I had half a season to wait before I could get started. My mind was always on Hearts.”
He made a decent job of fulfilling his duties to Teplice despite the hankering to get to Edinburgh. Vanecek scored seven goals in 16 appearances during the first half of the season in his homeland, whilst also managing to keep fully informed on all matters in Gorgie.
If smoke had started seeping from his home wifi router due to overuse, it would be perfectly understandable. “I tried to watch every Hearts game. The standout one for me was the win over Celtic,” he said.
“That was another reason I was so excited to come here, the atmosphere inside the ground that day. Tynecastle is magic. The Scottish league has lots of contact and fighting, it’s a very aggressive league. The Czech league isn’t like that, it’s a lot more tactical, we play more football.”
His own robust style seems, on paper, to be suited to the British football stereotype. Mere thoughts of Vanecek and Steven Naismith pairing up in attack for Hearts during the second half of the campaign will have supporters giddy with excitement.
Vanecek’s power leading the line would be well complemented by Naismith’s guile and link-up play. Steven MacLean’s intelligence and movement is another option for manager Craig Levein. The imposing Uche Ikpeazu, once fully recovered from foot surgery, could also partner Vanecek should Levein decide he wants to completely overpower an opposition defence.
“I want to do my best here, I can already feel the support of the fans because they message me on Instagram,” said Vanecek. His social media activities have already attracted a cult following. “I try to communicate with them as much as I can and reply to them. I am happy the fans are like this. They have been very polite and respectful.”
The expectations on his shoulders are huge, not least because of the elongated build-up to his arrival. The long wait is over but knowing he was coming months in advance pushed Hearts fans’ sense of anticipation. Thankfully, the new recruit feels able to take it all in his stride.
“I don’t feel under pressure because of this, I just want to be successful for them to pay back the support they have given me so far,” he explained.
“I need to train now. I was sick two weeks ago and had to take antibiotics and it was hard for me. So I need to train more to get back to where I need to be. I don’t feel physically strong yet.”
He could play some part in Friday’s friendly against Lokeren near Alicante in what would be his first outing for his new club.
However, the real priority is getting Vanecek and the rest of the Tynecastle squad operating at full throttle in time for the Scottish Cup fourth-round tie against Livingston at Tynecastle a week on Sunday.