The restructuring of Hearts after a desperately disappointing end to the season began in earnest yesterday when former captain Christophe Berra returned to Tynecastle on a three-year contract and the club announced the departure of six players who had joined in January on short-term deals.
Hearts limped over the line in fifth place on Sunday, failing to win any of their final six matches and winning just two from 14 league games.
The arrival of Berra from Ipswich Town will be warmly welcomed by supporters who are unlikely to shed too many tears over the exits of Tasos Avlonitis, Alex Tziolis, Lennard Sowah, Andraz Struna, Moha Choulay and Dylan Bikey, who were signed by head coach Ian Cathro in the last transfer window.
The vastly experienced Berra left Hearts on transfer deadline day in January 2009 to join Wolverhampton Wanderers for a reported £2.5 million. He helped Wolves win promotion to the Premier League and played almost 100 top-flight games in England before a downturn in the club’s fortunes saw them suffer back-to-back relegations. Berra moved to Ipswich in 2013 and spent four seasons at Portman Road.
Now 32, he will be expected to shore up the centre of the Hearts defence alongside another veteran in Aaron Hughes. Berra, who had been linked with a move to Rangers, insisted Hearts were the only team he would come back to Scotland for and admitted the chance to work again with Craig Levein, the Gorgie club’s director of football, was a big draw.
“It’s a great feeling,” he told Hearts TV. “I wanted to come back and there’s only one team in Scotland I wanted to play for and that’s Hearts. I’m born and bred in Edinburgh, my friends and family are here and this is the only club I’ve ever played for in Scotland. Hopefully I can end my career here.
“I’ve spoken to Ian [Cathro] a few times and I’ve spoken to other boys about him and they’ve only got good things to say about him. Craig Levein was also a big factor, he gave me my debut as a youngster and a lot of my career is down to him.
Berra added: “I have a daughter up here which is one of the main factors in coming back.
“Hopefully we can make some good progress, get a couple of more signings in and push on to where we should be.”
Capped 35 times, he is in the Scotland squad to face England at Hampden next month.