Date: 5th April 2009 at 12:06am
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Now we’re in the Top Six, the Bottom Six starts to look interesting …

I`d be very surprised if there any Hearts fans out there who are less then delighted at the way the team – and club – have progressed in the last 8 months under the football guidance of Csaba Laszlo, who has shown remarkable man-management skills to transform the same players who drifted aimlessly last season. Messrs. Nade, Wallace, Elliott, Driver, Palazuelos and Stewart have all shown considerable improvement this season. Newcomers David Obua and Janos Balogh have justfied Csaba`s faith in them, and it could be argued that the loss of influential centre-half Christophe Berra to Wolves in January has hardly been noticed in terms of team results.

So while things look good for the run-in this season, let’s look to the future for a moment.

The SPL table shows 4 “groups” of teams. The Old Firm at the top (albeit in a modest sort of way) ? the 3 Euro chasers, proudly led by Hearts ?. the Top Six chasers (Hibs and Motherwell) ? and the 5 relegation battlers.

While we revel in a Top Six place and the serious prospect of finishing 3rd, I think that the relegation battle which will dominate the Bottom Six fixtures could actually play a significant part in shaping Hearts immediate future. The club which gets relegated will face a fairly bleak economic future, with the certainty that some of their better players will want to leave – the unlucky club will be most unlikely to turn down decent offers.

A similar economic reality may even hold true for the survivors too. Hearts already have Ian Black lined up from Inverness – so could the time be right to look at other players from those teams who could play at a slightly higher level ?

Surprisingly, it`s Falkirk who currently sit bottom of the SPL. I say “surprisingly”, because John Hughes` strategy last summer seemed sensible to me – namely, bring in some seasoned players to help “beef up” their young team and make them hard to beat. Messrs. McCann, Bullen, McNamara and Pressley (in January) were recruited, and for a while it looked like the plan would keep Falkirk above the danger zone. However the “dog eat dog” nature of the SPL this season has caused problems for teams at all levels , and Falkirk now face the real possibility of dropping out the SPL. Rumours of financial problem have already surfaced, so relegation would prompt a serious re-organisation within the club. They have several good players in my opinion – Scott Arfield, Darren Barr, Steve Lovell and Carl Finnigan would all be candidates for a step up to a bigger club. Falkirk’s Youth Academy has a reputation for developing good football skills, and the Scotland U-17 and U-16 squads currently feature some of their boys. I would hope that Hearts are monitoring these boys, with a view to offering them a higher platform and salary, at a time when their current club will be looking to cut costs drastically.

At St. Mirren, Andy Dorman looks like another Paul Hartley to me – a guy with high energy who contributes goals from a forward midfield role. Meanwhile at Hamilton, youngsters McCarthy, Easton and McArthur have had great reviews.

It`s encouraging to hear Csaba Laszlo admit that he has a list of SPL players that he`s interested in. Hearts don`t have much money to splash on transfer fees, and they could never compete with English clubs or the Old Firm if it came to a bidding war – however they do pay good SPL wages, and the prospect of playing in Europe should interest most players. In addition, we can demonstrate how the careers Berra and Craig Gordon have recently moved to higher levels in England as a result of good performances at Hearts. So, I hope that Csaba can win Vladimir`s approval to try to sign 1 or 2 of these guys in the summer. Our strategy now is to develop young players to the point of being saleable assets, and the impending relegation of a club like Falkirk offers an opportunity to enhance Hearts` reputation as a great stepping stone for young ambitious talent. Seizing an opportunity like that would surely go a long way towards Hearts reaching what should be their next target – namely to become the “regular” 3rd club in Scotland.


7 Replies to “Chance for Hearts to build ‘3rd force’ future”

  • You make some fair points here, in particular the fact that Berra’s departure hasn’t been the major loss than some claimed it would be. I think you’re right that the immediate goal for Hearts should be to cement their position in third, but they really should be at least attempting to see that the opportunity is there for another club to aim higher than that. Appreciate you have to walk before you can run, but they should be looking to break into the top two – as should some of the other clubs.

  • Yes – I’d agree wtih you, Mr H. The current state of Rangers suggests they could be challenged by a club who demonstrated just a bit more consistency than Hearts have managed this season – indeed, if Hearts had just “half” of a Kris Boyd then we’d probably be challenging for the SPL right now. However we also have to be realistic – this season, a slight dip in form (or just bad luck) for a few weeks could mean that Dundee Utd/Aberdeen are back in the hunt for 3rd. Thats why I’ve quoted 3rd as the realistic regular goal – but occasionally that level of performance would be good enough to get in the Top Two.

  • It was always going to take Csaba time to get things right. A season at least. If Saturday’s performance (and that against Rangers in the second half) are anything to go by, then it looks like he’s almost there. 3rd is a great position to be in, considering where we’ve come from, and if we can clinch that as comfortably as we appear to be doing at the moment then that gives us a fantastic springboard into next season. 3rd has *always* been the realistic aim of Hearts since the SPL was formed, but I’m with MrH – there are opportunities here as Rangers are going further into meltdown (although Bazzagate will probably benefit them long term), and Celtic are just chugging along in a relative comfort zone just aching to be challenged by someone. Csaba has shown that the team spirit he has gradually built can survive the loss of our best player & captain, so I have no worries for the summer on what individuals may or may not leave. Good times.

  • The difficulty we might have next season is potentially being in Europe – historically we always struggle domestically when we’re in Europe, so hopefully we can break that mould…….assuming we do get into Europe of course!

  • Good article. In my opinion it’s slow steady incremental improvement that builds a sound future. At the beginning of every campaign the aim should be to win the league – if not, then why are we taking part – but I would rather see us finish 3rd this season and then consolidate that in the next couple of years so we have a firmer basis for taking on the next step, though if either of the OF decide to implode and hand it to us then what the hey! In the long term we might perhaps be hoping to attract a calibre of player who is better than the SPL and uses us as a springbaord for better things (no problem with this as long as it’s done the right way) but in the meantime some of the guys mentioned in the article could do a great job for us (and themselves). I think we probably also need to accept fairly dismal European campaigns until we are consolidated and have the players and experience to take us forward. Casba Laszlo – LONG LIVE THE KING!

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