Hearts’ new signing Sean Clare had plenty of offers to mull over in the summer but says the sense of belief at the Gorgie club – in him and in what can be achieved this season – was a deciding factor.
“I had to take my time to think, I had to make sure my injury was right – it is now, it’s all perfect – and coming here, I felt the management staff really wanted to make me better,” said the 21-year-old midfielder. “That’s something I want. I believe in myself, but to have coaches that really believe in you is important and that can kick you on ten more levels than you ever thought you could get to.
“It’s a tough league, a hard league to win games in, and for players of my age – they should think about it. Especially in the stage of my career, I feel that I can benefit from working hard to get in the team and, once I’m there, playing regular games in difficult situations. I’ll come out of that a much better player than signing somewhere else and maybe not playing.”
Wooed by Leeds United, Swansea City, Aston Villa and Premier League club Fulham, the Nike Academy graduate was also linked with Rangers, while Sheffield Wednesday were keen to keep hold of the player they signed in 2016. But Clare is confident he has made the right choice in heading to Edinburgh, a feeling that is given greater credence by the club’s start to the season, with a League Cup quarter final to look forward to and a five- point lead at the top of the Premiership table to build on.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Sheffield Wednesday and have no bad feelings towards anyone there. I just felt at this moment in time I needed to be here to kick on and improve myself,” added Craig Levein’s 18th acquisition of this summer, rejecting the suggestion it was a move forced by the higher compensation fees English clubs would have had to fork out, saying the decision was driven by his own ambitions.
“I just tried to look at everything in a level manner and really think about what the best option is, and I feel like I picked it.
“I think it is the case [that it would have cost English clubs more] but I don’t think my compensation was a lot regardless of the club. With the clubs I did speak to in England, that was never a problem, so I don’t think that hindered anything – and it didn’t sway my decision. I came to Hearts because I wanted to be here.
“This is a massive club, with passionate fans and people who love football. I came up in the summer, met with the management staff and they were great – they really wanted to push me and improve me. When they took me around the place, the facilities are unreal; the ground, I saw a bit of the history and it really grabbed me as a great club to be at – especially right now.
“My honest opinion is any team in this league can really win it if they really knuckle down. Some teams have a higher budget or this, that and the other, but anything is possible. In football, once you get on the pitch it’s 11 v 11 but coming into a team that’s top of the league is a great feeling. The boys are buzzing, the staff are buzzing, training’s really fast and everyone’s working really hard to be better for the next game and keep winning. We’ll just have to see how far it takes us.”
The player, who has been compared to Dele Alli, has signed a three-year deal at Gorgie, prompting excitement among the management team, who know what he is capable of, but, having watched his new team-mates grind out another three points against Motherwell on Saturday and spent a few days training with them, he knows he will have to battle to win a place in the team. But he remains confident that he has something to contribute.
“I’ve had that comparison [with the England international] but I’ve never said it. I think it’s potentially because we look fairly similar. I can see why people have said it because we have a similar running style and we both like to get involved in goals and assists. I probably dribble a lot more with the ball and am more direct than him but I definitely look at his games to take bits from it that I feel can improve my game.
“I like to dribble with it a lot, taking players on, but obviously not too much because the team’s more important. I think I can bring a very direct nature, from set-pieces or within the game. I’m someone who’s very athletic, energetic and really passionate about winning games and trophies – like the fans are.”
Having spent the summer weighing up his options and nursing his injured ankle back to full health, Clare is now chomping at the bit for some competitive action and his first Tynecastle matchday experience, as Hearts prepare to play host to Livingston, Motherwell and St Johnstone within the space of a week.
“I’m really excited to play here, said the player who came through the Nike Academy with Celtic’s Tom Rogic. “I’ve been told the atmosphere is unbelievable and the fans are really passionate about their team. I could see that at Motherwell [last weekend] – the turnout was unbelievable.
“My foot’s fine. The injury’s completely gone. I’m just working hard to get back to my full sharpness. I’m ready whenever the manager calls on me. I’d play today if I could.”