Hearts captain Christophe Berra: It’s uncomfortable walking in Edinburgh when form is bad
Personal pride is at stake for Christophe Berra in tomorrow’s Edinburgh derby.
As captain of Hearts at a time when the team is sitting bottom of the Scottish Premiership, the 34-year-old currently feels uncomfortable when walking around his home city. Until recently, the skipper has generally been accustomed to being highly-regarded in the Capital by virtue of a stellar career in which his peak years were spent predominantly in the top two divisions of English football while representing Scotland on 41 occasions.
A derby victory, lifting Hearts off the foot of the table, would go some way to easing the sense of discomfort he currently feels. “We’ve got our own pride, you know,” Berra said ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Hibs. “I come from Edinburgh, I’ve got to walk around the city and things, and when you’re not doing well you feel like people are watching you. They’re not really, but it feels that way. People go to games and they are screaming at you but they wouldn’t do that in the street. That is just part and parcel of football. It is the same at any club in the world. You’ve got to learn to take it on the chin and get on with it.”
Berra admits this is a difficult time to be a Hearts player, with the team’s poor form leading to anxiety and anger among the supporters. The centre-back admits the players must stand tall and find a way to break this vicious circle. “Down on the pitch you are just concentrating on the game, but, yeah, you can hear the frustration of the crowd,” he said. “As soon as something goes against you ... the crowd can be hard to please at times. You try to go forward and you lose the ball, or you try to pass the ball back, and they are not happy. Sometimes people can feed off that. Then at other times, people will accept a mistake and it’s not the end of the world. But at the moment Tynecastle is a very hostile place and things are not going well. The fans are obviously venting their frustration.
“Tynecastle is a great place when you’re winning, but when you’re not doing well, the fans are vocal about it. It’s not easy. I don’t think anyone would find it easy. It can affect some players more than others.”
Berra believes Hearts’ main problem at present is a lack of confidence. He expects their situation to improve significantly if they can eke out a victory and lift some of the gloom. “If you are not winning then confidence will affect different players differently,” he said. “And maybe more attacking players, because they tend to feed on confidence more. But we are conceding too many goals, and not creating too many chances, so it is not a great recipe. But it is all fixable, and it is down to doing hard work and getting that first victory.”
Berra dismissed the suggestion that under-fire manager Craig Levein is unable to motivate his players and insists the onus is on every player in maroon to ensure they are doing everything in their power to make Hearts become a winning team. “The manager’s job is to motivate and that’s part of the criteria, but we’re all adults, we’re all professionals and if you can’t motivate yourself to go out there and play, there is something wrong with your dedication,” said Berra. “It’s a privilege to be playing for Hearts and playing professional football and people would give an arm and a leg to do it.
“You can’t just turn up when things are going well. It’s when things are not going well that you have to roll up your sleeves and run a bit harder and earn your luck. People talk about motivation, and I get that, but we are professionals, and we have got talent, but it is about mentality, and if you don’t have mentality, then that will separate the men from the boys. You need to stand up and be thick skinned and get on with it. When you cross that white line you need to put your tackles in and win your headers. If you do that over the piece, then you earn your luck and produce that wee bit of quality to get a goal.”
Despite Hearts’ current difficulties, Berra is confident the travelling support in Easter Road’s South Stand will back their team to the hilt in tomorrow’s derby as Hearts bid to leapfrog their similarly beleaguered city rivals. “Everyone is wondering what this game is going to be like,” said Berra. “Most of the time both teams are up in the top half but at this moment we’re both struggling and the fans are not happy on both sides. I don’t know what the atmosphere will be like, it will be a strange one. But I’m sure both fans will be backing their team. We know the Hearts fans are very loyal and they will always back us to the end. They have the club at heart and they want the best for it, just like we do.”