PRINCE BUABEN does not want to rain on Hearts’ victory parade today when the Championship flag is unfurled at a packed Tynecastle but he has cautioned that the main ambition in the season ahead is survival.
There are many – Celtic manager Ronny Deila included – who believe that Robbie Neilson’s side will be among the challengers, building on their superb campaign last season when they ran away from Rangers and Hibs to win automatic promotion at the first time of asking.
Indeed there have been enhancements to Neilson’s squad with the arrival of Juanma, Igor Rossi, Blazej Augustyn, Gavin Reilly and Juwon Oshaniwa which suggests they will be stronger than last season.
Buaben is also a bit like a new signing, having missed the last three months of last season with a broken toe, and he will play today in the Premiership opener against St Johnstone after all of the pomp and circumstance.
However, he is cautious about what lies ahead. He feels gaining a foothold in the top flight is more realistic rather than competing at the top end of the table.
Buaben said: “Staying in the league is the top priority. It’s our first season back in the Premiership and staying up is the aim. Then we will kick on from there. That’s what every team aims for when they come up – to stay in the league for the next few years. If that goes well, you move on to the next stage. In football, everything is possible. If we go on a run and win the next ten games, you never know.
“But we just have to do what we did last season, keep winning games and see where we end up.
“We still have the same mentality as last season – we will try to win every game we play in. We are not going to play for draws, we will approach the games with the same mentality. It won’t be easy but we have to step our game up now.”
The 27-year-old’s return will mean a reunion with his close friend and regular midfield partner Morgaro Gomis. It is a double act which served Dundee United well for four years – including the 2010 Scottish Cup victory – and now Hearts are reaping the rewards.
They know the way each other plays inside out and they complement each other in the middle of the park. In the beginning Gomis was the mentor but Buaben feels the roles are now reversed.
He said: “When I joined United, Craig Levein told Morgaro to look after me as I was really young. I tell him all the time that I am the one who looks after him now – but he disagrees.
“It feels like we have been together for 50 years – it’s been too many! But we work well together. We have different styles of play and Morgaro is a good player with great experience.
“During that time at United, we had more experienced players – guys like Barry Robson and Lee Wilkie. At Hearts, we have younger players – but hungry players in Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker.”
Buaben is pleased to have been working with Levein again but he was pleasantly surprised at how adept Neilson has been both on the training ground and in his man management skills. He is relishing the prospect of again enjoying the unique Tynecastle atmosphere which was such a feature during last season’s charge to the Championship title.
He added: “Robbie is one of the best coaches I have worked for. If you make a mistake, he won’t shout at you – he will encourage you. For young players, that’s great as you will want to go and take the ball again.
“There is going to be a full house on Sunday and that’s great. You want to play in front of big crowds and test yourself. Tynecastle is a great venue and the home form will be vital.”