Even when he’s in the squad, he’s out in the cold. The extent to which David Vanecek’s Hearts career has failed to get off the ground was emphasised last weekend as he sat in the stand and watched his side fall 3-1 to Rangers.
As Craig Levein revealed afterwards, Vanecek had in fact been in the match day squad but failed to make the 18 required to get stripped. He and Clevid Dikamona were the ones on call in case of pre-match illness or injury.
As fate would have it, Sean Clare came back in after the warm-up and reported he had failed to shake off the sickness that had afflicted him the previous night. He dropped out, Craig Wighton took his place in the team and who stepped in to replace the former Dundee player on the bench? Not Vanecek.
He’s not even deemed ready to be the sub for the sub striker. What a curious case. Given football’s capacity to throw up dramatic storylines, it would normally be tempting to imagine Vanecek finally making his mark by stooping to score the winner against Celtic in next month’s Scottish Cup final. But it’s currently a stretch to imagine him even being included in the squad.
After last weekend’s game against Rangers, and having dealt with more relevant matters, Levein was asked about the Czech Republic striker, whose arrival in January had been so heavily anticipated. So little has he been seen since those first stumbling performances there’s already talk of him being on the way out.
It has got to this stage already. Levein was asked if the player’s season is now a write-off.
“I would not say he is a write-off,” he replied. “He has actually been doing a bit better in reserve matches. But it is taking him a hell of a long time to get up to speed.”
It’s a damning indictment – not even up to speed, four months after joining up with the Tynecastle club on their mid-season break. Hearts are in a Scottish Cup final and facing the first of four important remaining league games tomorrow against Hibs.
The player whose pre-contract acquisition caused such a stir when it was announced last summer might as well be carrying the hampers.
Vanecek has had the chance to shrug off the indignity of being subbed off just after the half hour mark against Dundee in January. There were a couple of further starts against Dundee and Hamilton Accies in March, the last of which saw him replaced at half-time of a 1-0 defeat. That was five weeks ago. He has not been seen in the first-team since.
Speaking about Vanecek in January, after those initial disappointing displays, Levein said it was now a matter of seeking to “dampen the enthusiasm” whipped up by the player’s ill-judged social media messages about the impact he was going to have when he touched down in Edinburgh. Consider that job done.
As we approach the awards season, Vanecek has few rivals for title of biggest let-down. Levein himself must take some of the rap for the hype. He often created the impression that Vanecek was the missing piece in the jigsaw and Hearts fans were in for a treat when he arrived from FK Teplice.
It’s not as if he’s come from nowhere and this is his first time at this level. Youtube provides evidence of a player with the qualities that helped make him the one-goal-every-three-games striker he was in the Czech Republic top tier.
Levein’s eye for a player is not in question. There’s been more successes than failures. While his belief that Peter Haring, his perhaps biggest gamble last summer, would flourish in the Scottish top tier has proved inspired, there’s precious little to suggest his hunch about Vanecek is ever going to pay-off.