Hearts project boost as Neilson signs up to stay
THE revolution at Hearts over the past two seasons has revolved around continuity and sustainability.
Robbie Neilson’s decision to sign a new contract until the end of the 2017-18 season is clearly regarded as a central plank of that joined-up approach.
Of the many problems the previous owner, Vladimir Romanov, brought to Tynecastle, a revolving door in the manager’s office was merely one.
The current custodian, Ann Budge, is clearly eager to ensure that her part in the journey towards eventual fan ownership contains as few unexpected turns in the road as possible and made that clear last night when announcing that Neilson and his assistant, Stevie Crawford, will remain in charge of team affairs as the club carries on the process of re-establishing itself in the top flight.
“I am very pleased to have secured Robbie and Stevie’s services for the next two seasons,” she said. “This is a win-win for everyone – the club, the players and the supporters.”
Neilson, of course, won the SPFL Championship by the proverbial country mile last season and has the side sitting comfortably in fourth in the Ladbrokes Premiership ahead of this afternoon’s visit of Kilmarnock.
“We came in with a long-term plan, we’re ahead of schedule and very happy with the progress our coaching team has made,” stated Craig Levein, the director of football at the Gorgie club.
Hearts midfielder Don Cowie, meanwhile, believes the prominence of homegrown talent at Tynecastle is good news for Scottish football as he urged his precocious team-mates to knuckle down and realise their aspirations for club and country.
The 33-year-old insists he has been taken aback by the quality of youthful first-team regulars Sam Nicholson, Jamie Walker, Callum Paterson and Jordan McGhee, despite being aware of their burgeoning reputations prior to his arrival last month.
Cowie, capped 10 times himself, largely during the tenure of current Hearts director of football Levein, is particularly enthused by Paterson, who he reckons has the ability to be a long-term successor to Alan Hutton at right-back for the national side.
It bodes well for Hearts, but he is adamant the whole country should be toasting the emergence of a batch of kids who, he believes, could be in Gordon Strachan’s thoughts next month.
The national boss will name two different squads for the friendlies against Czech Republic and Denmark as he experiments ahead of the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign.
“Seeing it close at hand, the club is in a great place – and Scotland, as a whole, is in a great place,” said the former Wigan and Cardiff star.
“Sam Nicholson, Jamie [Walker], Callum [Paterson] and Jordan [McGhee] are really fantastic young players playing at a great level week in, week out, and that can only be good for Hearts and Scottish football.
“I would be surprised if one or two players from Hearts do not make at least one of those squads. I think they need to have those aspirations.”
Cowie appears to be revelling in his role as elder statesman at Hearts.
He is keen to help the youngsters fulfil their potential and looks back on his own career, and how drive and determination took him from Ross County’s modest youth ranks to the English Premier League.
“At Ross County in my first two years as an apprentice, I probably came across 30 or 40 players,” he said.
“I don’t think there are any of them still playing football. I knuckled down, gave it everything I could, doors opened and I got fortunate.
“If [the Hearts youngsters] want to achieve things, it’s there for them. There’s no doubt the ability is there.”
VITAL ROLE: Robbie Neilson’s decision to extend his contract at Hearts has delighted the club’s owner Ann Budge