By Matthew Harold:
It’s time for Hearts fans to take a reality check and realise that the days of big name players at Tynecastle is over.
The end of the 11/12 season saw another huge cut in the Jambos wage bill take place, when names such as Rudi Skacel, Ian Black, Craig Beattie, Stephen Elliott, Suso Santana, David Obua and Adrian Mrowiec were let go.
Skacel, the top scorer last season, has just turned 33 and being on one of the biggest wages at the club, it has meant that the Czech hero has to be sacrificed in order to balance the books.
For too long Hearts fans have complained about the size of debt the club has under owner Vladimir Romanov, but now that the Lithuanian businessman is taking steps to get the club operating on a financially sound basis.
But that doesn’t seem to be enough for some. On one hand they’ll complain about the fact that the club is carrying a debt well over £20m and on the other hand they’ll moan about the fact their favourite players have been let go to bring the wage bill down.
The season will see Hearts in most likelihood draft in a vast number of their under 19 squad, who despite not spending at the same astronomical level managed to run champions Celtic close during the last two years.
Players such as 2010/11 SPL under-19 player of the year Jason Holt, Denis Prychynenko, Jamie Walker, Callum Patterson, Kevin McHattie, Fraser Mullen, David Smith and Dale Carrick will be key to survival for the next ten years.
Unless Hearts fans want to go the way of Rangers and end up languishing as a new entity in the Third Division having to start over from scratch, then this is the way back to the club finally reducing its huge debt and being able to break even.
The final friendly of the pre-season at Rotherham included the least amount of players that had at some point played in the under-19s at some point, just the 13 of them, with 15 ex under-19 players having been used in the three Scottish fixtures.
This illustrates just how well the youth system at Tynecastle has worked, with only one of those players, Andy Webster, having not gone through the Riccarton Academy, given that it wasn’t open when he arrived from Arbroath.
Given Celtic’s ‘spend and dump’ policy when it comes to youth products, with only an extreme handful making the breakthrough to the first team, the fact that Hearts can boast such high numbers making it through is a testament to Director of Football John Murray and now under-20’s head coach Darren Murray.
The last four youth products that Hearts have sold on - Craig Gordon, Christophe Berra, Lee Wallace and Eggert Jonsson - have raked in the club a combined £13,5m in transfer fees, which is the main thing that Hearts will have to rely on in the near future given the unstable situation regarding the SPL television deal.
Transfer fees is going to be one of the major income sources for the club for the next few years as it deals with the harsh reality of the current economic climate, which has meant that everyone would have had to cut back no matter what happened along the M8 at Ibrox.
Another source of income for the club would be to get the crowds back into Tynecastle, but when it comes to ticket pricing for season tickets, the club makes PR mistake after mistake.
With the ill-fated dynamic pricing season tickets, which turned into a PR nightmare, as the club released little information on how exactly it would work, whether it would just be a case of the price increasing incrementally, given how many season tickets were sold, or would it fluctuate given how many were sold at a certain point in time.
Having ditched the dynamic pricing scheme after fan protests, what the club has been left with is a shortfall. Going into the first game of the season against St Johnstone on Saturday, the club is sitting on 8,500 season ticket holders, when usually by this time of summer they are in the regions of 10-11,000.
On the pitch, Hearts have yet to make a signing this summer. Having dispensed of the high earners they have yet to address the one flaw in the squad, which is the lack of depth in the striker position. All other positions are pretty much covered, but should an injury or lack of form effect John Sutton, only David and Gordon Smith are waiting in the wings as natural replacements.
So the one area the club should be looking to strengthen is the striking area, but rather than going out and spending money the club doesn’t have on someone, what they should do is similar to what they done with Beattie and wait until the end of the transfer window, when many English clubs offer payoffs to several of their fringe players, which means Hearts can get them short-term for a reduced rate.
As for Sutton, after what can only be described as a stop-start season last year, he will now have the perfect time to produce for the side. With Elliott and Beattie gone, he is the main man and he has the perfect coach to help him produce his best football in Edgaras Jankauskas, someone of a similar size who Sutton can learn the tricks of the trade from.
Ultimately this season is going to be about second place, though this side may not have the fear factor that affects a lot of non-Old Firm clubs when it comes up to playing the Glasgow giants. Well one of them is gone and this side is fresh and vibrant, which will mean they can play with a greater freedom than Hearts sides in the past, so you never know.