Zdenek Zlamal reveals how being dropped by Hearts affected him and why he never wants to leave Tynecastle
Czech goalkeeper grateful to be back in the team after midweek recall
Demotion from first-choice to third-choice goalkeeper at Hearts hit Zdenek Zlamal hard. Yet not once did he contemplate leaving the club, contrary to some rumours.
The arrival of Joel Pereira on loan from Manchester United saw Zlamal dropped in mid-August after recording a clean sheet against Ross County.
He began the campaign as No.1 under former manager Craig Levein but, after four Betfred Cup ties and two Premiership outings, found himself ostracised from the first team.
Pereira took the gloves, with Colin Doyle promoted to deputy keeper on the substitutes’ bench. Zlamal was left to content himself with the odd reserve appearance until a recall by interim Hearts manager Austin MacPhee for Wednesday night’s match against Livingston.
Almost four months out of the team provided plenty time for the 34-year-old Czech to reflect and consider his options. Not once did the thought cross his mind to push for even a loan move in January, never mind a permanent transfer. He was thoroughly convinced he would earn himself another opportunity.
“There were some rumours that I would leave but I was never thinking like that,” he told the Evening News. “I want to stay here as long as possible if they want me here. Of course it was difficult but I kept belief that I could come back. I worked hard and I changed a couple of things.
“I have to say thank you to Austin that he believes in me and he trusts in me. I’m happy I didn’t give up. This situation kept me stronger. Of course it would be better if Hearts were successful but this is a tough period now for everyone. It is totally different than last year.”
With Doyle out until next year nursing a broken ankle, and Pereira dropped after conceding 13 goals in his last four matches, Zlamal now has a priceless opportunity to fight for his Hearts career.
He is likely to continue in goal against Motherwell tomorrow. “It’s a chance and I appreciate every game I can play. We will see what the future brings. I will continue to work hard, focus on Hearts and continue to do the best for the club because I am so happy here. I am 100 per cent sure that I don’t want to leave. I never had those thoughts.”
It became clear soon after Zlamal was dropped that he was not the problem as Hearts plummeted to the bottom of the league table. Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Livingston lifted them one point clear of the basement but confidence remains low at Riccarton right now.
The wait for a permanent manager has now entered its sixth week with Daniel Stendel’s appointment yet to be confirmed. Austin MacPhee continues as interim manager in the meantime. Atmosphere in the camp has been affected by sub-standard results and victories are badly needed between now and the Premiership’s winter shutdown.
“To be honest, it’s nervous. We are not in top form just now,” admitted Zlamal. “We must not give up, we must still be positive because we have very good players. Where we are in the league does not reflect the quality we have. We should be higher but it’s very difficult.
“Here at Tynecastle, when we are 1-0 down, the fans boo and it’s hard. Maybe we have to win with a bad performance from everyone – win 1-0 and then after we can get better and better. That would give us back some of our confidence.
“I am disappointed about the result against Livingston, of course, but I am happy I am back. When I was droppped, it was quite tough. I took it like a positive and I believed I would be back. Now it has happened. Wednesday’s result and the performance was not really good so I am disappointed.”
The positives in moving off the bottom of the league are minimal in Zlamal’s mind. He has been at Tynecastle for 18 months now and fully appreciates the demands of playing there.
“Everyone at Hearts expects more from us so I think it’s still not enough. We should be higher. The fans are disappointed and they need more from us.”
Stendel’s appointment is designed to galvanise and add fresh impetus to the group. That has been delayed whilst Hearts and the German’s former club, Barnsley, try to resolve a compensation dispute.
MacPhee is therefore highly likely to remain in charge of the team against Motherwell. Stendel will be watching from afar and trying to assess his new squad for when he takes over. Many should be out to impress and stake their claims to play.
Zlamal knows there is a fresh start on the horizon for him and his team-mates. “The new manager will come in and everyone will start from zero again. That is a positive for players who are not playing or who don’t get too much chance on the pitch,” he said.