HEARTS head coach Robbie Neilson has offered an intriguing insight into the club’s signing policy, and confesses that there would be no room for himself as a player.
The former Tynecastle captain is among a disappearing breed of professionals who have been honoured for their steadfast loyalty to one club.
Neilson’s decade-long commitment to Hearts was celebrated in 2008 with a testimonial against a team made up of Scottish Cup winners from the 1998 and 2006 sides.
However, for as long as Neilson occupies the Tynecastle dugout, the retired right-back has no plans to create an environment that will generate such exhibition games in future.
Following a fruitful summer in which Neilson and director of football Craig Levein have added eight fresh faces to the Hearts squad, Netherlands-born Turkish centre-half Alim Ozturk and Swedish forward Osman Sow are among those who are likely to start in today’s Championship opener at Rangers.
Neilson is candidly encouraging such new recruits to use Hearts as a stepping stone to bigger things.
“Our thing when we are bringing guys in is that, when they come here, it is a springboard for them – a stepping stone to going to the next level, especially with the guys who come from abroad,” explained Neilson.
“We have a couple of guys who have come here from Holland and Sweden and, ultimately, they want to play in England.
“They are open about that and they see they have a better chance going from Scotland to England than from, say, Sweden to England.
“We don’t want guys who are going to be here ten years. We want guys who are going to come in and do well and be away to the next level in two or three years’ time. They come to Hearts and then they go on again.
“Then you get the next guy coming in and the kids coming on as well, and then they, in turn, move on. You just keep churning them over, get one good player then the next one is better – then the one after that is better again.
“If we get a guy who comes in from X country and he comes in and does well for two years and then moves on to a big club down in England – the next guy we want will see that and think I want a piece of that as well.”
Asked if that meant there was no room for players like himself any more, Neilson replied: “I don’t think there is much room for any player like that in the Scottish game to be honest, especially with the financial side of the game.
“Kids are coming in and we are putting them in and trying to develop them. If we get an offer in and the offer is acceptable then the boys will go.
“One, it is good for the club and two, as long as he picks the right club, then it is good for the player.
“That is my job here, to develop players to a level where they are too good for us.
“Also my role is to make the right decisions so that when a player goes, we have a player ready to come in and take over.”
After stepping up from his role as Hearts under-20s manager, Neilson has had the summer to adjust to the demands of being a first-team head coach.
But the 34-year-old admits that is still something that he is getting used to.
“That’s probably been the hardest bit, time management,” he added.
“You have to decide what you want to focus on and make sure you have time for certain things.
“I have to try and learn to become better at delegating. Before, when I took the 20s, I did the planning, the taking of it, doing the video, the whole shebang.
“Now I need to try and delegate. [assistant head coach] Stevie Crawford has obviously come in, [under-20s coach] Jack Ross has come in.
“We have John Hill as sports science and had a sports science and a video analysis guy starting during the week.”
Centre-half Ozturk, who arrived from Trabzonspor after spending his formative years in the Netherlands, is one player Neilson has high hopes for.
The 21-year-old had the chance to remain in Turkey but elected to move for the sake of his career.
Ozturk said: “I was at Trabzonspor but they didn’t give me a chance. I spoke with them but they are a big club in Turkey and they always buy big players.
“They wanted me to go on loan for another year.
“Last year I was on loan at 1461 Trabzon and I did not want to do that again, I wanted my chance during pre-season.
“That’s why I searched for another team and Hearts came in and told me they wanted me.”