A third Aussie has joined the club's ranks with Kye Rowles signing a three-year deal subject to visa approval and international clearance..
He joins from Central Coast Mariners for an undisclosed fee having recently made his debut for Australia.
It follows a successful season for his club as Rowles helped CCM finish in the top six, reaching the finals series where they lost to Adelaide United.
A former team-mate of both former Hearts midfielder Oliver Bozanic and ex-Hibs and Rangers striker Jason Cummings, Rowles featured 25 times, missing just two games, playing predominantly as a centre-back in a back four. He has been a regular for the last four seasons, since turning 20.
On the ball
One of the first assumptions likely made by fans is that he’ll be a like-for-like replacement for John Souttar. That’s not necessarily the case. Firstly, Rowles is left-footed, capable of playing as a centre-back or full-back.
If anything it will be interesting to see what impact his arrival has on Stephen Kingsley, who was one of Hearts’ best players last season as a centre-back. Kingsley is such a talent that he’d be just as good at left-back or even moved forward to wing-back. A key aspect of Hearts going forward is versatility and Rowles would provide that.
Watching the 23-year-old in action, you are immediately struck by his composure on the ball and how he defends. A clip was doing the rounds on social media of him performing a roulette, made famous by Zinedine Zidane, in the middle of the park.
In one of his more recent games, a win over Brisbane Road, he brought a long ball down on his chest under pressure before slipping a pass inside to a team-mate.
Rowles is very comfortable stepping out of defence and then looking for a pass to break the lines. In the same match he intercepted a wayward pass and his first instinct was a quick, sharp pass forward into the feet of Cummings.
There is an element to his build-up play where he appears to prefer to tempt opposition players to press him before using a burst of acceleration with the ball to evade then shift it off to a team-mate, preferably on the ground and forward. He was third in the A-League for ball progression, a metric which quantifies how many metres a player is taking the ball forward.
Only two players played more passes in the entire league, while his 63.49 passes per 90 placed him eighth. Impressively he had a 90.25 per cent success rate.
There are, however, two sides to his passing. On the ground he is almost faultless. Over longer distances it becomes much more erratic. Rowles doesn’t possess Souttar’s ability over longer distances, especially those booming switch of plays. He averaged 6.85 long passes per 90 last season with a 48.66 per cent accuracy. Not only did Souttar average more (7.8) but his accuracy was better at 56.81.
What about defensively?
There is a lot to like about how Rowles defends. There is a real calmness to it. He likes to stand and not dive in, committing just 0.51 fouls per 90.
He is comfortable using his right foot which means when it comes to intercepting or clearing the ball he never goes with the ‘wrong’ foot, allowing him to get a clean collection with the ball.
Watching him in action, he gets himself in very good positions, uses his body well and it is obvious he is very good at reading the game, quick to react to how the play is developing. He can sweep across and cover the full-back and is at ease in wide areas against a winger.
When the ball is out wide, his preference is to retreat to a position just outside the six-yard box, allowing him to scan what is around him. From there he is well positioned to cut out crosses or attack the ball when it goes into dangerous areas. He is very rarely, if ever, guilty of concentrating too much on the man rather than the ball.
No player had more interceptions in the A-League last season. His 6.96 interceptions per 90 would have had him in the top five in the Premiership, as would his 1.1 blocks shots per 90.
That is all allied with a decent turn of pace and acceleration to recover. The best example of that was against Newcastle who played through Mariners at the edge of the box. Just when it looked like they were going to score, Rowles had turned, made up ground and produced a brilliant block.
However, there is an area of concern. And that is in the air. Rowles had a 51.81 per cent success rate from 3.04 duels per 90. Both on the low end for a centre-back in Scotland. For context, Kingsley was 65.16 per cent from 4.75 per 90 and Souttar 67.79 per cent from 5.46 per 90.
The average number of long passes per team this season in the Premiership was 46.74 compared to 39.43 per 90 in the A-League.
All in all, Hearts have recruited a player with a lot going for him and who will enjoy being in a team who will enjoy the majority of possession. If he can adapt to the direct, physical nature of Scottish football he will be a real asset, individually and within the collective.