Christophe Berra was described as a “godsend” by manager Craig Levein but the defender knows if he lets standards slip, his boss will be just as quick to point that out.
Those exacting demands are something he has warned his team-mates about and having known the boss since he made his breakthrough during Levein’s first spell in the Hearts hotseat, through to his days as Scotland manager, Berra has also given them a heads-up on what to expect in if he ever chooses to sound off.
“We’ve had jokes about it in the changing room,” said Berra. “It’s something that some of them have not experienced yet. It’s maybe only me and Prince [from his days at Dundee United].
“I’d like to see some of the faces when it happens, although I might be on the end of it and you have to take it on the chin. When I was 18, 19, you feel maybe undone but when I look back now it was really good for you, it was a learning curve and probably made me the person I am.
“At the moment, because we played well against Aberdeen and got the win at Hamilton, it has all been hunky dory. But I am sure when we don’t reach the standards he expects we’ll know all about it.
“I have still to see that, but I have seen it in the past so we know we can’t afford to drop our standards.”
From untried, fledgling managers, the appointment of Levein, below, as Ian Cathro’s permanent replacement returns the club to a tried and tested front man, with tried and tested methods and Berra says there is a lot be be said for a traditional approach, which he believes commands the respect of the experienced pros in the dressing room and enhances the technical and psychological development of the younger players.
“I’ve been down in England and a lot of the academy players are all pampered and never had to do the jobs we used to do,” said the Hearts captain. “I was cleaning boots and tunnels but there are all these regulations and rules now. Okay, it’s protecting their rights. But when you’re playing against men, you’re not going to be pampered.
“The first-team dressing room is definitely a different environment. In youth team football you’re playing for points but it’s not the end of the world. When you step up you’re playing for points, league positions, money and the fans have paid to see you. It can be a harsh learning curve. When I look back it’s the only way you learn and gain experience.”
Hearts have taken baby steps since they were dumped out of the Betfred Cup and Cathro was sacked. Under Jon Daly, they found greater joie de vivre and became tougher to beat. Levein has taken them on, with a clean sheet and draw with Aberdeen and victory over Hamilton. Today they hope to add to that against Partick Thistle.
“It’s all small steps, the manager hasn’t had a lot of time to work with us,” said the Scotland defender. “But he’s putting his points across in training now and then and everything has gone fine.
“As a defender he just wants us to do the basics, head it, put tackles in, get our blocks in. That’s not just the defenders, that’s over the whole pitch. You have to be competitive, win the first contact and the second balls and if you do that well then you’ve always got a chance to win the game.
“I made my debut under the manager and look at all the defenders who have worked under him. Your job first and foremost is to defend. The manager I have worked under the most is Mick McCarthy and he was similar. I think as a defender football changes but you’ve still got to keep the ball out of the net.
“Away from home it’s more difficult because you’re on the back foot. But, hopefully, when we get back to Tynecastle we can get on the front foot and be more expansive.”