IT CAN’T be easy being told you are no longer wanted by the football club that has been a focus of your life for more than half of it. Especially when, for so long, the perception from afar has been of you as one of that team’s brightest young prospects.
Yet, Jason Holt’s exit from Hearts ultimately has involved as little pain as such a dissolution ever could. Certainly, it has helped that the 22-year-old midfielder can tell himself that, in winning a three-year contract at Rangers following a successful trial period at Murray Park, he has moved to a bigger club – and no doubt for a fatter wage packet. Moreover, for the second half of last season the attacker was away from the Hearts courtesy of a successful loan move to Sheffield United.
Above all, though, Holt has handled having his time at Tynecastle terminated through recognising that truth needn’t always be inconvenient. Sometimes it can cushion a crushing blow. That is how the midfielder assesses Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson being upfront about the fact that he had to move on when his contract expired because few opportunities would come his way in Gorgie.
“As a player, when you speak to your manager, you just want an honest answer and Robbie was great with that: he gave me honest answers, and that’s what you look for. It helped me. I knew what the plans were, so that was it. It was a wee bit disappointing but that is football. It is part and parcel of it. Players come and go all the time. My situation was no different. I’m here now as a Rangers player and I’m delighted to be here.”
Of course, it is only natural that part of Holt will want to use the launchpad that Rangers manager Mark Warburton and his assistant, David Weir, have given him at Ibrox to show that Neilson was misguided in dispensing with his services, which his new club acquired for a development fee agreed at £65,000. “I appreciate his honesty, it’s good to have an honest answer, but I think you’re always looking to prove [yourself] to everyone. There are always people out there watching and you need to do your best.”
Holt’s confidence is entitled to be brimming as a result of proving himself to the Rangers management team after thriving in the pressurised situation of a trial period – a stint that included a start in Tuesday’s 1-0 friendly defeat by Burnley at Ibrox when Warburton fielded all eight of his signings over the course of the evening.
“As a footballer there is always going to be pressure on you,” Holt said of the trial. “My job was to do the best that I could and try to show what I could bring to the team. Thankfully, it is all done now but, as a player, there is no way you can stop putting in the hours. You need to keep going at it 100 per cent, give your all, try your best every day in training and carry that on to the pitch.”
Motivation is hardly going to be lacking for Holt if he is handed his first competitive Rangers outing in the Petrofac Training Cup tie against Hibernian at Easter Road tomorrow. As a former Hearts man, the midfielder is sure to be taunted by the Leith denizens. Mind you, they will hardly lack targets for their teasing, with fellow new signing Danny Wilson and Lee Wallace and David Templeton, as well as Weir, all one-time men in maroon.
“It’s just another game, a game that us as a team can win,” said Holt. “That’s the main focus. I played a few Edinburgh derbies. Obviously the ones that we won were stand-outs. When you won it was happy days. I think we won more than we lost. I had a pretty good record.”
The focus in the season curtain-raiser will be on Hibs midfielder Scott Allan following the Easter Road side’s rejection of two bids from Rangers for a player they patently covet. Holt would not entertain ruminating on the possibility that his chances at Rangers could become as limited as they transpired to be at Hearts were Allan to be added to a Rangers squad that Warburton has completely reconstructed. “Scott is a Hibs player just now, so I can’t comment on that,” the new Ibrox arrival said. “I think as a player you just do your job on the training field and on the pitch.”
So comprehensive have the team changes presided over by the new Rangers manager been, it is generally regarded that a bedding-in period will be required before the Englishman can implement a playing style that has encouraged and excited Holt. Yet, the player sees no reason why Warburton’s Rangers cannot produce the desired football from the start.
“I think in the games we have played so far we’ve shown we’ve gelled quite well already. In training as well. The training has been great and the intensity really high. I think there is a real togetherness with the boys and we’ve gelled really well already.”
By mid-afternoon tomorrow we will have a much better indication of just how well.