Hearts set for busy summer of transfers as Ann Budge reveals plan to 'become a big club in Europe'
Determined to build on the past season, which saw them scale the heights in the league and progress to the final of the Scottish Cup, work is already well underway on a busy summer of transfer activity.
Manager Robbie Neilson will need to find a replacement for Scotland defender John Souttar and there is work to be done in other areas as he addresses the voids left by key on-loan contributors like Ellis Simms and Alex Cochrane. Along with Taylor Moore and Ben Woodburn, their deals have expired and whether they return to Tynecastle for the new campaign depends on their parent clubs.
While negotiations will be ongoing, Hearts cannot afford to wait around too long as Neilson tries to build a squad capable of maintaining and actually improving on the standards set domestically and also finding their feet on the European stage as they push towards their long-term goals.
But he will have the practical and financial backing of the club’s hierarchy who recognise the need to push forward rather than rest on their laurels.
“Until now, we have been fixing the infrastructure and the underlying business issues while trying to keep the football going,” admitted chairwoman Ann Budge. “Whereas now we can focus on the number one priority which is how we help the men’s and the women’s first teams really succeed and reach heights we’ve not done for a long time. I am really excited about that.
“We still have to take a long-term view but our goal is different. We have come such a long way and it is no longer about survival, as a club, or survival in terms of staying in the Premiership or even the top six. These are still fundamentals but our goal is to be successful and play consistently at a European level. We want to become a big club in Europe.
“If I had said that back in 2014, I would have sounded a bit like Mr Romanov but we are in a different position now. I’m not saying that in a couple of years time we will be number one but we can be successful without setting unrealistic goals.”
Well aware of how advantageous qualification and then a sustained run in Europe can be, in terms of luring quality to the club and helping to finance it, having already booked group stage football, either in the Europa League or at Conference League level, Hearts see it as a building block to something more.
“We have known for a long time that Celtic and Rangers were able to get into Europe and get the huge financial benefits that came from that and we know that widened the gap and meant the rest of us couldn’t hope to compete with them.
“Getting group stage football means that while we may not be able to close that gap, it won’t widen at such a rate and the changes to European football means that there are more opportunities now so we have to be able to grasp them.”
The Tynecastle club have already been linked with Lawrence Shankland and Alan Forrest, but that is simply the starting position.
Looking to increase the size of the squad, as well as the quality of the players within it, there are several areas still to be addressed.
Seeking to add at least eight new faces, they require the services of someone capable of filling Souttar’s boots, another left-sided defender and greater creativity, a supply line and scoring prowess in the forward areas.
Waiting for Peter Haring to decide whether he will stick or twist, they have to consider that central area, especially as Beni Baningime is expected to miss at least the first couple of months of the new season as he continues his rehabilitation from cruciate ligament damage.
But Budge says there is an acknowledgement of the investment necessary to maintain the club’s upward trajectory while competing domestically and in Europe.
“We have to set the bar high and recognise that if we want to play in Europe, in the group stages and, hopefully, longer, we have to build a team that has genuine capability of playing at that level.
“Ok, maybe, from time to time things will go wrong but if we want to keep that going then we have to raise the calibre and look at both the quality and the quantity.
“Look at Rangers, they had those big games in Europe but it didn’t weaken them because they have such a big squad. They almost have two starting XIs and we have got to gradually build up to that without going overboard.
“We have got to be careful and make sure we continue to cut our cloth appropriately but we are in the very fortunate position that all the money we get from our football success will go back into the football department and that is a position I never thought we would be in a few years ago!
“We are not stupid and having been through what we have been through, nobody wants to go too gung ho. We have to be sensible. But, essentially, the football team have done well and they will reap the benefits, which is exciting. We will not miss this opportunity to build on what we’ve got.”
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.