A quick look at the deals bringing in Michael Smith and Ashley Smith-Brown, and where Hearts may look next in the transfer market as they look to mould their squad ahead of next season.
Smith and Smith-Brown
A couple of solid signings that fill needs within the Hearts squad after the departure of all three left-backs from last season (Juwon Oshaniwa, Faycal Rherras, Lennard Sowah) and Callum Paterson.
Rafał Grzelak did join from Polish side Korona Kielce, though it’s yet to be seen whether Hearts view him as a left-back, left-sided centre back or a defensive midfielder.
On the other side of the back four, the returning Jordan McGhee adds another option along with fellow academy graduate Liam Smith, but there was always a sense that Hearts wanted to try and upgrade at the position.
The latest recruits should enable Hearts to play with a certain flexibility. They are both speedy, attack-minded full-backs who should be able to play as wing-backs should Ian Cathro wish to play a three-man defence. With John Souttar, Krystian Nowak and Grzelak capable of playing at defensive midfield, it means Hearts should be able to switch from a three-man unit to a flat back four without any issue.
What’s more, the pair meet the club’s desire to establish a more British identity within the first-team squad. Grzelak has been the only summer signing (out of six) to be recruited from abroad.
Hearts have admitted they’re looking for a goalkeeper and have even rearranged last season’s squad numbers so the No.1 jersey will be open for any incoming custodian.
For the long-term, Hearts remain committed to developing Jack Hamilton as the No.1. It means they’re largely shopping in the market for a reliable veteran, which obviously limits the options available to them, something Cathro mentioned last Friday when he spoke to the media.
Not only a potential hindrance to the team, another season of being thrown into the deep end could knock Hamilton’s confidence and hinder Hearts’ development of the player in the long term. Getting in a steady pair of hands to mentor the youngster over the next one or two years must be top of the club’s wanted list.
Judging by the way the squad is being constructed, and from Cathro’s preference towards the end of last season, it would seem Hearts will go with a three-man defence for much of next season. Therefore, the need for a natural wide-man, even if Jamie Walker is sold, may not seem all pressing. But it’s still good to have options in reserve, as Hearts found out the hard way in the opening months of last season when Sam Nicholson went down injured and the poor play of the forwards necessitated a move away from the narrow 4-4-2 formation.
Even if things go according to plan, the ability to bring a flair player off the bench is always a handy weapon to have.
Cathro prefers to use a sitting midfielder who can keep possession, set the tempo of play, and move the ball laterally and vertically. Some may believe Hearts already have such a player in Perry Kitchen, but the current boss doesn’t seem convinced by the American’s talents. The former captain has a tendency to knock the ball immediately back to the centre-backs when he receives it, instead of looking to turn or moving it out-wide, as his boss demands. In a perfect world, Hearts would wish for Alexandros Tziolis - only ten years younger.
If no deal is struck for such a player - whether or not Kitchen stays will likely be a contributing factor - look for Nowak or perhaps even Souttar to play the role at times next season.
With five experienced strikers on the books and youngster Rory Currie in reserve, Hearts look set at the position for the meantime. However, rumours regarding an exit for Bjorn Johnsen have swirled since his bust-up with Ian Cathro at half-time during May’s defeat to St Johnstone, while even Conor Sammon admits the chances of him playing regularly next season are pretty thin.
If Hearts can find other clubs willing to take them off their hands, it would leave them with Kyle Lafferty and Esmael Goncalves as the only two known commodities, with Cathro looking at new recruit Cole Stockton as a player to develop over time.
If the ex-Tranmere man fails to adapt, it would leave Hearts without a reliable penalty box striker in the squad, even if they do keep all six forwards. Lafferty and Goncalves are both talented hitmen who can score 15 goals if they are fit and playing well, but they each like to do a lot of their movement outside the width of the goalframe, and may not be suitable partners.
A solution, if Lafferty and Goncalves fail to mesh, could be to introduce an old-school box-to-box midfielder into the fray. It would mean that, should either of the front two drift out wide or run into the channels, there’s a supporting player in the penalty box to help finish off the move.
Chris Cadden would be perfect for the role, but with Motherwell reportedly holding out for a fee of around half of a million, it’s hard to see Hearts stumping up the cash.
As for those currently at the club, Walker could do the role but prefers to drift in from wide angles instead of playing exclusively in the centre, while Arnaud Djoum would need to discover a sense of urgency and determination that’s often been lacking from his play.
READ MORE - What Hearts are getting in striker Cole Stockton