HE might not be captain, but Andy Webster will still be the player Hearts will look towards to help lead them to Scottish Cup glory against Hibernian on Saturday. The quietly-spoken defender demands respect with his performances on the pitch, and can already boast an impressive record in the competition.
He helped Hearts into the final in 2006 before a fall-out with the club’s hierarchy over a contractual issue saw him dropped from the final itself, against Gretna. However, he put this disappointment aside four years later when lifting the cup while on loan from Rangers at Dundee United, and having been made skipper.
There is further reason to view Webster as someone who is invested with a certain authority, with the defender having been called back into the Scotland squad by manager Craig Levein, who did much to revive the player’s career at Tannadice.
The centre-half has been named in Levein’s squad to face the United States at the end of the month, meaning his season has been prolonged further. “I didn’t have any holidays booked anyway,” he smiled yesterday, as he contemplated a high-octane end to his first full season back at Tynecastle. “Obviously it is great to be back involved with the Scotland side. It is an added bonus.”
Webster always secretly hoped he would return to the international side, for whom he last played in March 2010 against Czech Republic. “Of course you always want to be involved, you never think: ‘that’s me, I’ve had enough’,” he said. “But fundamentally it is about doing well for your club. You need to perform week-in, week-out.
“You want to be involved and it is up to the manager what squad he picks,” he added. “In the Scotland squad I believe the standard of player has definitely improved over the past few years. You always have those ambitions but you don’t want to stand on the rooftops and shout about it.”
It would, however, be helpful for his team-mates if he could broadcast what it is like to be within touching distance of Scottish Cup victory. Webster is aware he can bring his experience to bear on this weekend. “When you have experiences, good or bad, you can always recollect and reminisce and have a better understanding of what it is all about,” he said. “Looking back [to the United win] it was a different occasion. When you are a bit older, and with a bit more experience, you can recall all these things you have done in the past and use it to your advantage.”
“To be able to captain a team to the Scottish Cup was a huge honour,” he added, reflecting on the 3-0 win over Ross County in 2010. “United have only won the cup twice in a hundred years. So for us to achieve what we did was a great testament to the squad we had.”
Webster does not feel any bitterness about his experience in 2006, when he looked on from the stand as Hearts defeated Gretna on penalties. “That is done and I do not have much to say regarding that,” he stressed. “I only deal with the here and now and a game I am looking forward to.”
“You get one side of it and you get the other,” he added. “You take it as it comes and you deal with it.”
Webster does not believe Hearts’ current dominance in this fixture will impact on this particular contest at Hampden Park. “It’s a double-edged sword,” he said.
“You can look at our good record or they [Hibs] might say: ‘we have to rectify what has gone before’. The whole week, people can dress it up any which way they want. The proof will be in the pudding on Saturday.”
Webster is glad to be stationed at home this week, even if the countdown had been frenetic. Hibs manager Pat Fenlon opted to take his squad away to Ireland for a few days. “I am happy to be at home,” Webster said. “Footballers are creatures of habit, they like the norm.”
He is sympathetic to those caught up in cup fever. At least he can affect what happens on Saturday. Others will have to sit and watch as their hopes and fears are pinned to a group of footballers playing for high stakes on their behalf. It is a hefty responsibility for the players. He won’t be treating the final with anything other than the respect it deserves.
“There is no point turning up at five to three and yawning away, and not caring,” he said. “You need a certain amount of nerves. How you deal with them is the key to how you perform.
“I spoke to someone during the week regarding this, and when you cannot influence what is going on then it is a lot harder.
“From a player’s point of view you can influence things. That is where you want to be.”