David Vanecek’s unhappy spell at Hearts is a reminder that football is not an exact science.
There are many ingredients that go into helping a player settle, particularly one brought in from abroad. There are invariably family concerns. In Vanecek’s case his wife Jena gave birth shortly into his stay in Edinburgh, something which could well have affected his focus.
It also helps if you arrive in the country in tip-top condition. In this respect Vanecek was up against it from the start. He has no-one else to blame but himself. Taking some time out to enjoy oneself when between employment is fine if you’re an office-based worked; indeed it is often advised.
But it is not recommended if you are a professional footballer. Craig Levein was aghast by the state in which Vanecek turned up at training in January following a holiday (the Czech Republic league season stopped for a winter break at the end of November).
The manager perhaps feared being made to look a chump having spent much of the first half of the season trailing his arrival. When Hearts were struggling for goals, it was all right because Vanecek was on the way to sort things out. When injury hit players such as Uche Ikpeazu, it was doubly frustrating because Vanecek would not be around until January to help take the strain.
He was a candidate for Hearts’ player of the season before he had even kicked a ball.
It isn’t the first time a hunch about a player has not worked out. Levein can console himself with the knowledge that the majority of his other signings last summer, including the previously unknown Peter Haring, were awarded pass marks at the very least following their first seasons.
The acres of news print devoted to Vanecek prior to him pulling on a maroon shirt were in contrast to the four lines in which Hearts announced news of his departure yesterday after only seven appearances and no goals. It is possible to claim they had already relayed this message to supporters – at around 8:17pm on the night of 23 January. This was when many suspected his career at Hearts was over having barely begun.
Levein’s decision to haul him off 32 minutes into his league debut at home to Dundee in January could have been an attempt at shock treatment: shape up or ship out.
The public humiliation was compounded by Levein’s later comment that the striker had been “rubbish”, hence being substituted – 13 minutes before half-time. Vanecek had been culpable for the loss of Dundee’s first goal that night after being dispossessed by Genseric Kusunga in his own half.
Levein branded his lack of fitness as “not acceptable” and said he would have to do a hell of a lot better to establish himself in the side.
Many players have excelled after inauspicious beginnings. Take Sam Cosgrove at Aberdeen for starters. Few Aberdeen supporters could have imagined the striker ending up second-top goalscorer in the Premiership last season.
Indeed, he did not get off the mark for his new club until October, having endured 16 goalless appearances in front of fans who were fast running out of patience. Now he is the club’s No 1 striker.
But Hearts clearly saw little evidence of Vanecek turning things round. The writing was on the wall for him in April when he was included in the matchday squad for the match against Rangers but was left sitting in the stand after the late withdrawal of Sean Clare. Craig Wighton was handed a starting jersey and Clevid Dikamona, a defender, was promoted to the bench ahead of Vanecek.
Afterwards Levein denied the season was a “write-off” for the striker, but that’s exactly what it was. He did not appear again. Even when the manager was shaking things up amid a spate of injuries in the final few weeks, Vanecek was conspicuous by his absence. Whatever happens next, his time at Hearts will be defined by the manner of his arrival.
A memo headed: “Pre-Contracts: What Not To Do” has probably already been typed out and distributed at Riccarton. Top of the list: Beware the temptation to over-hype. The next bullet point could be a recommendation to think twice about publicly shaming a player trying to gain confidence at a new club.