Ann Budge happy to see Hearts youngsters on English clubs’ radar

Hearts owner Ann Budge says she is delighted that the club’s youngsters are attracting the attention of major English sides, claiming that it vindicates the work and finance that has been ploughed into bolstering the academy, and proves that the relationships being fostered with the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United can be mutually beneficial.

Young Hearts full-back Aaron Hickey has reportedly caught the eye of Manchester City. Picture: SNS

Blossoming full-back Aaron Hickey, who signed his first professional contract just over a year ago, has reportedly caught the eye of the English Premier League champions and despite his inexperience any move is expected to generate a seven-figure sum.

While not revealing whether a move would be on the cards for Hickey at this fledgling stage of his career, Budge admitted that there is interest in the players coming through the ranks and, like virtually every club in the world, they are a selling club – provided the price is right.

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“It is something we have been working on,” said the Gorgie chairwoman, who helped conduct the draw for the SSE Scottish Women’s Cup, the final of which will be staged at Tynecastle on Sunday, 24 November. “So many things in football are changing at the minute, including how you go about recruiting, and we have been working hard to make that work and it is terrific when someone like that comes in and says ‘I really like that young player’. So hopefully we will see that again and we do want more of that.

“I know Craig [Levein] has said the bit that gets him excited is when he sees these young players coming on and getting a chance in the first team because that’s really what it’s all about. So yes, it’s terrific for us all when we see them coming through.”

Initially impressed by the full-back’s performances against Celtic in the league and Scottish Cup towards the end of last term, City are keeping tabs on how the 17-year-old copes with regular first-team football this season, with a bid for the Scottish starlet reportedly a possibility come January.

City are not the only English side tracking his progress but the fact they would loan him back to Hearts to see out the season could give them an advantage over other suitors such as Southampton, as could the fact they are already working closely with Budge and the football department.

Having signed 21-year-old Japanese midfielder Rytoro Meshino, pictured right, a matter of weeks ago, they have agreed to a season-long loan in the capital, with the player flying in today and the deal likely to be completed within the next 24 hours.

With others vying for his services, Budge believes it says a lot about Hearts and the people at the club that it was decided that a season in Edinburgh was the best option.

“Correct. It’s a reflection of the training facilities we have, the way we look after the players,” said Budge. “And it’s part of our recruitment strategy, for want of a better phrase, to try to make these links. It can be beneficial for both clubs and the player, so it’s something we work hard on.

“I think when you try to grow any kind of business, partnerships are crucial. And whether that is a supplier, a customer or whatever, you have to put a lot of effort into partnerships because, if you choose the right ones, they can be very beneficial.”

Meshino is a player that could generate excitement in the stands and further afield and Budge says the knock-on effect could benefit the club and the rest of Scottish football.

“I have watched a lot of videos and they have all told me he is a really exciting player. But then we have all watched lots of videos. But everything I have been told both by our own coaches and those at Manchester City would suggest that’s going to be the way it is. Hopefully it will generate a bit of excitement.”

Eye-catching performances and regular football for Meshino would certainly help grow the Hearts brand, while the website will be made easier for a greater number of anticipated Japanese visitors to use.

“It won’t be the full website but we have to be able to communicate. So yes that’s all well in hand,” said Budge. “In terms of the Japanese culture, the Japanese fans support the players and we therefore hope there will be an elevation in terms of the recognition of Hearts there as well. It is a big thing for us and for Scottish football.”