Hearts completed the double signing of striker Conor Sammon and full back Faycal Rherras yesterday as they prepare themselves for a run in the Europa League.
While Scottish football fans will be familiar with Sammon as the Irishman spent two-and-a-half years with Kilmarnock, there isn’t much known about the Belgian-born Moroccan defender brought in to compete for a place in the Tynecastle back four.
So what kind of player are Hearts getting? Craig Fowler tells us everything we need to know about the 23-year-old.
He’s right footed
Rherras has largely been advertised as a left back, with good reason. Not only is it a position he’s played in the past, and with distinction, but it’s a problem area for Hearts going into the new season. Juwon Oshaniwa, last year’s marquee acquisition, has not worked out and if recent quotes from the Nigerian are to be believed, he could be heading out of Tynecastle regardless. Although, what if the right-footed Rherras is not here to replace Oshaniwa, but the man on the other side of the back four instead?
There haven’t been a whole host of rumours surrounding a potential Paterson exit, though that doesn’t mean it won’t ultimately happen. Hearts have made no secret of their business strategy that aims to develop players and then sell them on for profit, and it would be a sore one to take if Paterson, perhaps the most prized asset at the club right now, was allowed to leave at the end of his contract, which expires next summer. Robbie Neilson is said to be keen on the Alim Ozturk and John Souttar centre back partnership. If this is the case it would mean a spot at left back for last season’s most consistent performer, Igor Rossi, with Rherras potentially battling Liam Smith for the role of Paterson’s successor should the Scottish international leave.
If Rherras has been signed to play left back, fans shouldn’t be too concerned about his preferred foot. While he cuts in on his right to shoot or cross from distance, he’s not afraid to go down the outside and cut back with his left. And unlike many full backs playing on the opposite side, he’s very adept at tackling with his weaker foot.
He’s an attacking full-back
When Rherras, as a 20-year-old, signed for Visé in the Belgian second tier he was used almost exclusively as a left-sided attacking midfielder, notching seven goals in 31 appearances in his one season with the club. This included netting from the penalty spot, which Hearts fans will be hoping is a sign that they’ve finally found someone reliable on spot-kicks.
After making the move to Sint-Truiden, he switched to full back and remained there for the duration, scoring only once in two seasons, but he still likes to drive forward with the ball and attack his opposite number. His willingness to either cut inside or drive down the line make him a difficult opponent to predict, and he’s got more than a little skill to try and manoeuvre his way around the 18-yard area.
He’s had to work hard for his move to Hearts
Rherras’ first club was the renowned Belgian side Standard Liege - who fans of a certain age may remember knocking Hearts out of Europe in 1992 - though he soon bounced around youth sides of various other clubs before finding himself at Vise in the second tier. It’s a familiar situation for young footballers to find themselves in and careers at these crossroads go one of three ways. They either drop further and are out of football at age 25; find their level and carve out a career as a lower league player, or battle their way back up. Rherras did the latter.
His performances in his first season were enough to catch the eye of Sint-Truiden. Though in the second tier themselves, STVV had greater aspirations of promotion and won the title in Rherras’ first season following the move. Not that it was all plain sailing for the new recruit. He played the role of squad player in his maiden campaign before forcing himself into the starting XI at a higher level. He played 28 times last term in the Belgian top flight, 26 from the start, before injury cut his season short in March.
That determination is apparent when you see him play. He performs with a real sense of urgency and isn’t afraid to put himself into challenges. Despite this, he’s yet to receive a red card in his career to date.
He can shoot from distance
We’ve alluded to this already, but Rherras is unafraid of cutting inside on his right foot and, if given the time, having a pop from long range. Ozturk and Paterson are already two members of the Tynecastle back four confident in their range and fans will be more than happy to see another player capable of producing the odd stunner or two. The 91st minute of a derby match being the most appreciative moment.