Robbie Neilson is a man who changes with the wind, so trying to definitively predict what he has planned for the goalkeeping position would be a fool’s errand. But I’m going to give it a shot anyway.
The signing of 25-year-old Viktor Noring suggests the previous plan to have Jack Hamilton be the team’s goalkeeper of the future might not longer be set in stone. I wrote previously about how Matt Gilks’ signing would have been perfect for such a scenario. Gilks is well into his 30s and would have been a stop gap between now and the end of the prospective two-year deal, which would have allowed Hamilton to get experience on loan and by the time Gilks contract expired he would have reached 24, an age where goalkeepers are typically mature enough that they can be trusted to be the full-time custodian.
When Gilks decided to sign for Rangers instead it left Hearts with a problem as Neil Alexander was already gone. In public, Neilson backed his young goalkeeper by insisting the new plan was to let Hamilton flourish in the first-team instead of sending him out on loan. However, this seemed to be an exercise in confidence building at the time, and even more so in retrospect. If it were then Paul Gallacher could have stepped in as an veteran deputy. Gallacher may be nearing the end of his career but he’s still only 36, two years younger than Alexander, the man he replaced as goalkeeping coach. Instead it makes more sense to assume Hearts were out to sign a new prospective number one as they look to leap ahead of Aberdeen and close the gap on Celtic (and probably Rangers) in the coming season. And that’s just what they’ve done.
Noring is not a stop-gap veteran. At only 18 he was entrusted with the gloves at Trelleborgs in the Swedish top flight and was once looked upon as one of the nation’s brightest prospects, earning himself a Rookie of the Year award in 2009. He was even capped once by Sweden - though it was in a glorified B team match against the South Africa development side - and had some top clubs interested in his services.
It’s not gone well since then. He went on loan to Malmo and Celtic, while still contracted to Trelleborgs, to try and win a deal. Instead he never played for either side and was allowed to return at the conclusion of each loan. It completely halted his career momentum and he’s largely been used in reserve at Bodø/Glimt, Heerenveen and Lyngby, featuring in only 19 games since 2012.
Though he has the stats of a career back-up in recent years, his constant movement would suggest it’s not a role he’s content with. He hasn’t come to Edinburgh to merely play deputy to Hamilton’s sheriff. He’s got enough pedigree about him that it’s possible to envision him winning the gloves full time and becoming Hearts’ goalkeeper of the future, should he recapture his once tantalising promise.
The position will likely remain Hamilton’s to lose. But instead of having the future mapped out for him with a team willing to live with his mistakes, he’s going to have to work even harder, battle off competition from a new team-mate and mature as a player very fast.