Glenn Whelan looks set to be the first player off-loaded by Hearts manager Daniel Stendel, with the new boss questioning the experienced midfielder’s leadership qualities.
The 35-year-old Republic of Ireland star featured in the first three games of Stendel’s reign but he was completely omitted from the squad for the Boxing Day defeat by Hibernian and will not feature in tomorrow’s home fixture against Aberdeen, who have won only once in Gorgie since September 2015.
Having joined in the summer on a one-year deal, the former Aston Villa player, who was released after they were promoted to the English Premier League, has made 17 appearances in total but last weekend’s match against Hamilton looks like being his last for Hearts as Stendel attempts to free up some of his budget by releasing players he deems surplus to requirements.
Making it clear that he is looking for more drive and energy in the centre of the park as he tries to implement a style of play to help his side move off the foot of the Premiership table and clear of relegation, he does not see the qualities he desires in Whelan’s play.
“I can say he is a good type. He wants to take the responsibility but I have seen only three games. Do you have the feeling he is a leader in this group? It’s not Glenn’s fault – but a real leader in the centre of the pitch? Sorry. Maybe I missed it. Michael Smith tries to take responsibility on the pitch.
“Before I came here, they signed some players who have experience and are the right age to take the responsibility but maybe they are not fit at the moment or they cannot handle the situation at the moment.”
But, Whelan isn’t the only player to come up short, according to Stendel, who cited the loss of the opening goal in the capital Christmas clash and the response to going behind as an example of the mindset he needs to change, either by illiciting improvement in his current charges or by recruiting players he knows can handle the challenge facing the Tynecastle side.
He feels that with more than 80 minutes to turn things around after Martin Boyle had opened the derby-day scoring a stronger reaction was required to turn the extra possession and pressure into something tangible as the tussle for a way to kickstart the season and his tenure as boss.
But, he was again surprised that it was his youngest player, Aaron Hickey, who was the one setting the right tone.
“I didn’t expect this from him. But every week he surprises me,” said Stendel. “Before I came here I saw he played more games than anyone expected, so maybe he needs a rest. But we cannot give him a rest because he has been our best player in the last four games. When I work with him and he gets some players next to him who can help him, he can improve so much more. At the moment he is good, but he can be really good, yeah?”
The focus for now is simply getting a win but Stendel admits that bringing in new faces then becomes a priority, as he looks to make the most of the winter shutdown to reinvigorate the squad and Hearts’ Premiership survival hopes. But he says it has to be the right kind of character.
“At the moment I can’t say we will bring in this player or that player,” he added. “What I can say is I would prefer, in this situation, that I know the players a little bit more than just knowing they are a good player. We need the right mentality and the right attitude – and we need them not to be injured every two weeks.
“At the moment we cannot be satisfied with the performance from some players. The question is, is this the quality or the situation or the mentality? Is there too much pressure? I don’t know. I think it’s both confidence and quality.
“I can see they want to change things but maybe it’s the doubt. Some players you can see have done it and improved and one example is Sean Clare. When I came, the supporters were cheering when he came off but in the last games he has shown he can help us, he wants to improve. This is a good sign. But with other players I still wait for the reaction. I wait for more.
“I hope some injured players can help us. Also, we need some players we can change. We need some leaders.”