John Robertson: Hearts plan for Europa League group stages
Having worked so hard to qualify for Europe, any notion that being knocked out in the early rounds is a blessing in disguise is certainly not one that is being entertained by Hearts, including club legend John Robertson.
The Tynecastle club will kick off their campaign on Thursday in a Europa League first qualifying round visit of Estonian side Infonet.
According to Hearts’ all-time leading goalscorer Robertson, the coaching staff have made meticulous preparations in the hope the team can successfully navigate four ties to reach the lucrative group stages.
Head coach Robbie Neilson’s forward planning also flies in the face of any suggestion that Europe is not worth the hassle when there are domestic targets to be fulfilled.
Robertson said: “I think it’s annoying for Robbie and the likes of (Aberdeen manager) Derek McInnes when people say going out of Europe is a blessing in disguise because it won’t then affect their league form.
“I know these guys really well and they are all the same – they don’t want to go out the competition. They want to make at least the group stages to give their fans a wonderful European experience and also to give the players the reward they deserve for a season of working to get into Europe in the first place. It was the aim of St Johnstone in previous seasons and it will be the aim of Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs this season.”
Robertson, who is now employed in the commercial department at Tynecastle, added: “I think the group stages is Robbie’s aim. There’s no doubt about that.
“I’ve seen his planning for pre-season and it’s in line with trying to qualify for the group stages.
“They have three-month cycles where they put the plans up for the players so they know what they are doing, and there’s no question that Robbie wants to qualify for the group stages. That’s the plan.
“They’ve recruited well so far and I’m sure they’ll continue to recruit well. Everyone is fit and will give themselves the best chance possible to qualify for the group stages.”
Robertson managed Hearts in the then Uefa Cup group stages after being appointed Craig Levein’s successor in 2004.
He added: “We had a magnificent win in Basle and then we played Ferencvaros.
“In recent times we have had Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool here where we have had full packed houses at Tynecastle.