NEW Hearts defender Adam Eckersley admits he plans to take a leaf out of Roy Keane’s book to ensure the Tynecastle outfit do not let their standards drop.
The 28-year-old will never forget his grounding at Manchester United after coming through the youth academy when the likes of Keane, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rio Ferdinand were all in the first team. There was no hiding place on the training pitch with Keane demanding that everyone was on their game.
Eckersley, who turned down Premiership offers to sign a 12-month deal following six years in Denmark with Horsens and AGF Aarhus, reckons that environment made him the player he is today – even if he did fall foul of the fiery Keane.
And despite just being through the door, the Englishman insists he will have no qualms in ruffling a few feathers on the training pitch at Hearts.
“I could not ask for a better upbringing,” admits Eckersley, who could make his debut at Raith Rovers today as Robbie Neilson’s side bid to make it three league wins on the spin, having also lost 4-1 to Livingston in the Petrofac Cup.
“I remember playing against Beckham in training when I was young and I was meant to be marking him but he was swinging balls in and Ruud van Nistelrooy was putting his head on the end of them.
“Keano was on my team and he turned round to me and said, ‘Will you stop those f****** crosses’! I just looked at him and I was thinking in my head, ‘The best full-backs in the world can’t stop these crosses and I’m 18. What is it that you want me to do?’ I s*** myself and just said, ‘Okay Roy’.
“I got in my car as fast as I could after that, drove home and tried to forget about it.”
Eckersley, who admits to being tortured by the skill of Ronaldo in training, added: “But it’s the only way you learn. People like that guide you and it’s a good environment to grow up in with people like that, you learn fast and you learn the hard way. That’s the way I like to be and I think I’ve taken that from Roy as well; I’m sure I’ll impose that on some of the young players here because we have a very young team.
“Even when I’m training, it’s a little bit quiet and I’m the new guy. I feel I have the responsibility to do the talking in the training and get the young lads up.”
With Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm, Worsley-born Eckersley admits he was kept to the straight and narrow on and off the pitch.
The defender explained: “He had his spies out and I don’t know how he did it. He knew exactly what you were up to all the time. I went to the casino and found myself in the gaffer’s office the next morning, ‘What are you doing gambling?’
“I was in the office for 30 minutes getting a rollicking about gambling and the effects of it. He was a great manager, man-to-man he was fantastic.”
Eckersley had other offers from Scottish top-flight clubs to consider but he admits he had his heart set on tying the knot with the capital outfit.
He added: “It was an easy decision for me even though I had options to go to the Premiership.
“I knew Hearts were one of the biggest clubs in Scotland so it was a no-brainer.
“I also got married up here a couple of years ago. I was here for two days and got a chance to walk around, and I basically fell in love with the city.
“And my wife Elisabeth, who I met in Denmark, loves the place even more than I do. As a footballer it is much easier to settle in if you are in nice surroundings and stuff like that.”
Head coach Neilson, meanwhile, admits he has targeted former team-mate Christian Nade as Raith’s danger-man today.
The Frenchman struggled during his three years in Gorgie, scoring eight goals in 83 appearances, before returning to Scotland with Dundee last season.
Neilson added: “He’s a good player and I know he has got himself in good condition. He’s looking fit and strong and if you get the ball to his feet, he is very difficult to play against.
“We have been focusing on that quite a lot this week, on how we deal with him.
“And I am confident we have strong, physical guys who know the game, and we should have enough to do so.”