In January the emphasis was on quantity, as Hearts head coach Ian Cathro was forced to act swiftly to plug gaps left by unexpected departures and long-term injuries. Now, after a troubled start to his Tynecastle tenure, it is all about improving the quality.
“The balance has swung in that direction,” admitted the man who recognises the importance of a bright and successful start to the new campaign. “We have been helped a little bit [in terms of numbers] because we have a couple of the younger kids who had good experience out on loan and now become an option for us. But it’s about getting the right people and the right quality of player and the right characters.”
Whether quantity or quality, both tend to come at a cost. The price paid for enlisting players who have come up short is to Cathro’s reputation and the club’s league standing, but bringing in quality is an expensive business.
In Christophe Berra circumstances conspired to gift them an international player with a well-developed understanding of the club and the Scottish top flight, the personal pull of being near his daughter helping them overcome the financial gulf between the wages they could offer compared to former club Ipswich.
The ongoing rehabilitation of John Souttar is also ahead of schedule, the young centre back hoping to be back in contention in September to add to the defensive options without any extra expenditure, but elsewhere there are voids that still need to be filled.
“The last wee while has allowed us to be a bit more clear in knowing exactly what we need to do, what we need to bring in and recognise what the most important parts of the work are,” said Cathro. That has prompted what is likely to be a significant overhaul of personnel this summer. Of those who were brought in to plump up the threadbare squad at the turn of the year, six will leave when their short-term deals expire at the beginning of next month. Tasos Avlonitis, Alex Tziolis, Lennard Sowah, Andraz Struna, Moha Choulay and Dylan Bikey have all been decreed surplus to requirements as the club tries to install a bit more steel and recruit more leaders.
Sam Nicholson and Callum Paterson have chosen not to renew contracts, and a few more departures are likely, as out-of-favour players opt to move in search of first-team football after learning they are unlikely to play a key role under Cathro next term.
“These conversations are something we’ve already had,” said Cathro. “They remain private things until it reaches a point when something changes. But I speak with every player and every player understands his position completely and the role which is there for him. There are a number of things which will develop in the coming weeks but they will remain private until they develop.”
What is vital, though, is that Cathro enlists the services of the right people, with character at the top of the list of desired attributes.
“We know we need to make some changes and we started [planning] that a long time ago,” he added. “It’s not for today to get into the scale of that, because we can also do that with improving on some of the things that happened. There were also some positive parts during that period as well and it would be foolish to forget that.”
But addressing the negatives is of more pressing importance, as city rivals Hibernian return to the top flight to bolster the competition already offered by Aberdeen, Rangers and St Johnstone and also heighten the demands and expectation levels of the Gorgie fans.
“There are key areas where we want to improve things and have a different level of strength. When a game is maybe starting to swing against us or there’s a difficult period or you suffer four chances against you in a row or a couple of corners in a row and the mood music changes a wee bit, that’s when we need to make sure we have the correct blend of players who are courageous and ready to play and who are also courageous and ready to suffer and manage their way through that. So we are very, very aware of what we need to bring in.”