Christophe Berra believes lifting Scottish football’s first piece of major silverware next season is a realistic first target as Hearts captain.
The Scotland defender will get his second spell at the Gorgie club underway today when Ian Cathro’s squad start pre-season training.
Hearts’ opening competitive fixture of the 2017-18 campaign is at Elgin City on 18 July in a Betfred Cup group which also includes Dunfermline, East Fife and Peterhead. It’s a trophy which hasn’t graced the Tynecastle boardroom since 1962 but the ambitious Berra insists Hearts can set that record straight.
“It’s a strange one, the group stage, because it will be like pre-season as well,” he said. “But we’ll want to win those games because it’s a cup, we want to get to semi-finals and finals, that’s the reason I came back to Hearts, to get that far.
“With the right application, with the right coaching, boys working hard and support from the club, I think we’ve got a chance.
“It’s definitely possible for us to win it. Cup games are one-offs. Look at last Saturday – England on paper are a lot better than Scotland, let’s be honest, but we more than matched them.
“So yeah, it’s something that a club the size of Hearts, with the support we have got and the good management and good owner, we should be aiming for.”
Despite his involvement in Scotland’s World Cup qualifier at Hampden last weekend, Berra opted not to request any extra time off this summer as he eagerly anticipates his return to Hearts after almost nine years in English football’s top two divisions with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Ipswich Town.
“A lot of the boys who played against England had played for their clubs just two weeks before but I hadn’t played for four or five weeks,” he added.
“So I’m looking forward to going into Hearts and I can’t wait. Hopefully the way I played against England gives me the confidence to go back there and hold my head up high, and then keep on performing week in, week out.
“I wondered if the gaffer might have given me a couple more days off because I played against England. I’m sure I could have had some extra time off if I’d wanted, but I’m going back there as captain and I want to set the right example.
“I want to go in there and see the lads and get on with it. I feel that’s important, I don’t want to go in a week later. I want to do the hard work with them on the training pitch.
“I finished on 7 May at Ipswich, so I have had a good holiday. Now I’ll prepare for a tough season, which this is going to be.
“It’s a big responsibility for me on and off the pitch, to be Hearts captain. You walk around the streets in Edinburgh and there are always Hearts fans you meet, and also Hibs fans giving you abuse. You can’t beat it! I’m really looking forward to it and I can’t wait to get started.
“I know the club are trying to get some more signings in. The manager and his ideas are really good and with the right application, they should come through.
“If he gets the backing of the players hopefully we can get Tynecastle back to what it should be, a fortress with the new stand getting built. But first and foremost, we have got to get back to winning ways.”
Like the rest of the Scotland squad, Berra has mixed emotions as he reflects on the 2-2 draw against England which saw him win his 36th cap for his country.
“It was strange to go through the highs and lows of football in those last two minutes when we led 2-1 and then England equalised,” said the 32-year-old.
“We were so disappointed. Imagine if we had won, the changing room would have been absolutely bouncing. But that’s football, it’s small margins. We still have to be proud of ourselves, we more than matched England.
“I know they had the bulk of possession at times but they are a top team and sometimes you have to surrender that. But we put tackles in, we had chances and maybe in some situations we could have slipped someone in or got a better shot off. But we limited them to very few chances as well.
“It was a good game for the neutral and we’re disappointed with the way it turned out, but we’d have taken a point before the game.
“The dressing room was just bewildered afterwards, but it’s like any sport, one minute you can be on top of the world – I was going mad when Griff [Leigh Griffiths] scored his second goal – then you just feel down and out.
“But we have got to pick ourselves up, it’s the reason we play football, in professional sport you have got to be hard skinned and get on with it. There were a lot of positives.
“Obviously we are not going to qualify automatically now, it’s going to have to be the play-offs. It’s still all to play for. We have our winnable games against teams who, on paper, we are just as good as, if not better. If we show the application we did against England and quality when we did do things nicely, we have got a chance.
“We never do it easy, do we? Even back in the day when we had the best players. Football has changed now, back in the day when people were playing in Scotland and England it was mainly British players, but now it is full of foreigners coming over.
“So it’s harder and harder for British players to be playing for first teams in the Premier League where before all these players were top stars. Now we’ve got Brazilians, Argentinians, so it’s much tougher. But we are what we are, and with a bit of hard work and good coaching and organisation we have a chance.”