Ross Callachan has become Craig Levein’s first signing as Hearts boss after signing a two-year deal from Raith Rovers. Craig Fowler looks at the transfer.
Here’s an interesting contrast. Hearts had signed 17 players in 2017, and yet even new boss Craig Levein admitted there were holes to be filled in the Tynecastle squad.
The scattergun approach to recruitment, which saw Ian Cathro sign players to fit a 3-4-3 system, only for the head coach to be binned before a league game was played, means the new/old boss has inherited an imbalanced group.
The first-team particularly lacks cover in two respects: a winger who actually stays out wide (and who doesn’t want to sign for Rangers), and a midfielder capable of controlling the game from the centre of the park.
It was therefore a surprise to discover that Levein’s first signing of his second spell as Hearts boss was Raith Rovers midfielder Ross Callachan. While he is a centre-midfielder, he’s not the type who’s going to get his foot on the ball and dictate the tempo of the game. He’s more of a battler. Also, he comes to Gorgie straight from League One, having been part of the hapless Rovers’ side who dropped out of the Championship at the end of last season.
The success of this deal will hinge on whether he is capable of making the huge step up. Because if he does, he can fill a different type of need in the Hearts squad.
In Prince Buaben and Connor Randall, Hearts already have a couple of hard-working centre-midfielders, but neither of those two have the dynamism of Callachan. The 23-year-old is built like a centre back with terrific athletic ability. He’s an all-action, no-nonsense, up-and-down the park type. He possesses a natural urgency that’s largely been missing from the Hearts squad, and as a boyhood Jambo he’ll be willing to run through brick walls come derby day.
Hearts may already have a similarly energetic midfielder in Don Cowie. But while the veteran is at his best in the centre, it’s likely he’ll remain on the right of midfield, if Levein’s tactics from his first spell are anything to go by. In his preferred 4-4-2, the manager would often select Steven Boyack or Phil Stamp, two natural centre-midfielders, on the right-hand side. Cowie may be earmarked for this role.
That would leave Callachan as the Scott Severin type if he’s capable of making an impact. Technically and tactically there’s a lot of developing to be done. His touch, passing and decision making in the final third will all have to improve and improve quickly, as an already impatient Hearts fanbase will demand instant results from the new manager.
This transfer will be looked upon more favourably in the coming days if Hearts are able to recruit two or three others. If Callachan is the only signing then the player may be on a hiding to nothing, with supporters already questioning the wisdom of spending precious funds on a League One player.