Hearts make cosy financial gain on Australia World Cup qualification - but benefits don't just stop there
The financial boost to Hearts offered by Australia’s qualification into this winter’s World Cup in Qatar has been highlighted and will have been celebrated by those monitoring the budget at the Gorgie club.
With the possibility of three players being included in Graham Arnold’s squad for that festival of football, the capital side are looking at a six-figure windfall.
But the leg-up it provides to the club's reputation as employers of players operating in that realm will be just as vaunted.
It is 1998 since the Tynecastle side enjoyed seeing one of their players turn out at a World Cup. That was when David Weir was part of the Scotland squad in France. Beyond that, it was 1990 when Dave McPherson and Craig Levein earned their dues among the world’s best.
But while ex-players like Ryan McGowan and Mauricio Pinilla went on to feature for Australia and Chile in those global finals, it has been a long wait for the Jambos to see one of their own set off for the biggest show on earth.
The ambition to be recognised as an outfit international operators seek out was laid out by manager Robbie Neilson earlier this year as he hailed Nathaniel Atkinson’s inclusion in the Socceroo ranks.
While Liam Boyce and Michael Smith have already accumulated a wealth of international experience, others such as Aussie midfielder Cammy Devlin and Scottish defenders Craig Halkett and Stephen Kingsley have been touted for greater honours.
“Hearts should be a team with international players as the majority of the starting line-up, whether that's for Scotland or different nations,” said Neilson, bucking the trend of many managers who would rather wrap their top players in cotton wool during international breaks than gamble on the condition they will return from duty. “It's great from that point of view, for our reputation as a club, but also for attracting players. We can show them the pathway that we've managed to create for a couple of boys.”
It was Atkinson’s form in maroon, as Hearts eased their way to a third place finish in the Premiership and a Scottish Cup final, that helped convince his national boss that he was ready for the bigger challenge. That resembled the picture Neilson had painted for the player when he signed him.
“We spoke to him when we were trying to sign him about coming here, playing for Hearts, raising his profile and trying to get into the national team. He has managed to do that. I still think there's a lot of development within him as a player.”
And, having played his part in sealing his country’s fifth successive World Cup qualification, he is now expected to be in the plane to the Arabian Peninsula.
That may or may not have played a role in convincing his international team-mate Kye Rowles, who was man of the match as the Socceroos overcame Peru in the Intercontinental play-off on Monday, but it will not have hindered Hearts’ recruitment.
That is why Hearts have international aspirations. They want the quality, they will welcome the monetary rewards and they will appreciate the kudos.