Ex-Hearts favourite Neilson ponders return north due to lack of game time

ROBBIE Neilson, the former Hearts defender, will consider returning to Scotland this summer if he cannot establish himself under Sven Goran Eriksson at Leicester City.

Although happy with the Swede's regime, the 30-year-old requires more game time having played only twice since Eriksson replaced Paulo Sousa last October.

Upon leaving Tynecastle as a free agent in summer 2009, Neilson joined Leicester on a three-year contract and featured 21 times in his first season. This year he has found himself marginalised as Eriksson's worldwide network of contacts helped expand the first-team squad at the Walkers Stadium to over 30 players.

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The full-back is now torn between remaining at a club with serious Premier League aspirations but playing only occasionally, or seeking a move to prevent himself stagnating. Leicester are currently eighth in the Championship, four points off the play-off places and just seven behind Nottingham Forest in the second automatic promotion spot.

Neilson intends to consider his options carefully and will initially test the water by seeking a short-term loan move, which is permissable in England outwith the Premier League even whilst the transfer window is closed. Thereafter he will contemplate coming back to the SPL, where he spent ten years with Hearts.

"I'll look at my situation again in the summer but I'd like to come back to Scotland at some point. I'll definitely consider it," he told the Evening News. "Whether it be the summer or a few years down the line, I don't know. I can't come up just now because the transfer window is shut.

"Down south it stays open to an extent because they have this emergency loan system where you can join another club for a month. It's just a way of getting round the transfer window here, so hopefully if I'm not involved at Leicester I'll be able to go somewhere and play some matches. Then I'll take it from there in the summer.

"I will re-assess things in a month's time; obviously if I'm not involved then I'll need to think about everything. I'd like to keep on playing because I want to play games. There's nothing worse than training all week and not being involved on the Saturday. In a few weeks I'll have a look at my situation and try to get some games in."

Muddying the waters somewhat for Neilson is Leicester's status as a potential future force of English football. Would he want to relinquish his place at a club where the manager has been told unlimited funds are available from Thai benefactors the King Power Group to secure Premier League promotion? Watching former Tynecastle colleagues like Christophe Berra and Craig Gordon cope admirably in that environment must provide a case for staying put.

"The club is going in the right direction and you want to be part of it," continued Neilson. "If we were to get promoted it would be brilliant. I know we had a poor start to the season but the league is still tight.

"We are only a few points off the play-off places and not too far away from the automatic promotion spots either. If you can go on a decent run down here it takes you right up there because nobody ever really goes on long runs. Everyone beats everyone else so if we can pick up a few results we can get back in there."

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Then there is the coaching perspective. Sousa, the former Portuguese midfielder and twice Champions League winner, provided an insight into the standards required of the world's best footballers. Eriksson, his replacement, does likewise as a manager, aided by first-team coach Dietmar Hamann who recently arrived from MK Dons. Neilson would be unlikely to come across such luminary figures in Scotland.

Neilson admitted Eriksson has created a harmonious dressing room despite the oversized squad and that he would be in some ways reluctant to depart. He cited the Swede's charisma and man-management skills as key to keeping everyone happy.

"I'm working with a guy who's been at the top of the game for a long time and it's great to work with these people for your own career. Just seeing how they work and how they deal with people. It's great to see his coaching methods and man-management methods. Sven is probably one of the best in the game at keeping people happy.

"We have a huge squad here. Everyone is upbeat. Obviously there are one or two who aren't too happy but the majority are content at trying to push for a position. The manager is the guy who creates that atmosphere.

"He speaks very well and keeps everyone happy, that's what he's good at. He doesn't do a lot in terms of training, it's mostly his man-management style. He's spoken to me a few times and said he's happy with me, I just need to wait for a chance in the team."

Perhaps more due to his private life than his professional one, Eriksson carries the perception of a suave, smooth talker with the ability to charm just about anyone. Neilson paints a different picture from first-hand experience.

"He's actually very down to earth. He's been great with me. He's very approachable and speaks to everyone all the time. He likes to create a happy atmosphere. He's bought in some good players as well because he clearly has some good contacts in the game. It's benefited the team bringing in a few boys on loan plus the signings we've made. He wants to instil some enjoyment in the game and he likes to go about at training enjoying himself. He's helped everyone off the park who isn't playing football because we're happy to see the team picking up results."

One of those loanees is the former Gretna defender Kyle Naughton from Tottenham, who is currently keeping Neilson out of the Leicester side. "He's in front of me just now. To be fair, he's been playing well since he came in," said the Scot. "There's not much you can do.

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"It's been a great experience down here and I've really enjoyed it. Just the change did me good, coming down and meeting different people and seeing different styles of play. It's a different world down here. People say Scotland is 100 miles an hour but in Championship games it's so open. One team attacks, then the other attacks and it just keeps going. There's no real build-up in the play or anything like that.

"It's all about winning games and grinding out results in this league and it's been a real eye-opener for me. It's definitely been worthwhile. I've met a lot of good people down here as well which might help me in the future if I'm going to continue in football."