Hearts’ new sporting director Joe Savage believes the success of his role will be judged on improvements across all aspects of the club’s football – but promotion back to the Premiership is the priority at Tynecastle.
Savage was Head of Player Recruitment at Preston North End when picked by Ann Budge to spearhead football operations at Hearts and he officially started work in his new position this week.
The former lower league player said that he will work to bring progress in every department as he works on “righting the ship”.
“First, we need to try to get promoted out of the league,” he said. “I think that recruitment is going to be key and we’re going to have to sign the right players to help the team to develop.
“I’m hoping that I can help the academy to produce more players to get into the first team.
“From there, can I help the performance department? Can I help the medical department? Can I help the analysis department? Yes, I think I can.
“I think there are things I can do that can help strengthen those departments. We all talk about marginal gains, that extra on per cent and that’s what I hope I can do.
“I hope people can see that I want to build relationship but I also feel this is a massive club and really you’re just righting the ship. You just try to get the ship back going the right way and I think that we can do that.”
Hearts have endured a tumultuous time over the last 18 months with troubles on the park culminating in relegation when the SPFL clubs voted to call an end to last season because of the pandemic.
Robbie Neilson has returned to Tynecastle to take charge of the first team and, though Savage will eb working to provide the manager with the best players available, he wants an approach that helps to avoid the high player turnover of recent years.
That means the club won’t rush into the market to get the striker they need but will search for someone who can be a mainstay.
“We’re definitely looking for a centre forward,” he said. “But he’ll need to be the right fit for us.
“We don’t want to be the type of club that signs a centre forward just for the sake of it. We want to make sure that he strengthens the squad and the team not only for this season but going forward to the seasons after that.
“We’ve got a list, we’ve spoken to agents about certain players so we’re hopeful on that.
“In terms of players out, nobody has come to talk to us about any of our players just now so I can’t really comment on that because I don’t know what is going to happen.
“We managed to get Michael Smith signed to a new contract the other day and we were absolutely delighted with that. One of the first thing on Robbie Neilson’s list was to try and get that done, though I can’t take credit for that as Jim Jefferies had spoken to the agent and I’ve managed to get it over the line. It’s well documented that we’re trying to speak to Steven Kingsley about getting his contract extended so we’re in discussions about that and it’s the same with Andy Irving.”
In the immediate future, Savage’s squad-building is going to be done with the twin challenges of the pandemic and uncertainty over the post-Brexit transfer market. He’s confident a route can be charted through both.
“Everybody likes to scout live,” he said. “That’s your bread and butter and you like to see them in action.
“But in today’s world, the sort of software packages that are out there mean we can watch a lot of games on video. At Preston we did a lot of that. Video scouting has become so important for a lot of clubs.
“We’ll make sure we continue that at Hearts but if we can get to see players live in games then we will. We’ll be okay with scouting and the knowledge that I’ve got, that Robbie and the coaches have, that everyone at the club has. I think we’ll be able to identify the right players.
“In terms of Brexit, I think it’s up in the air. I’ve seen the points system that’s been set out and it’s been scaring a lot of people in terms of looking into the European market. I’m not really sure and I need to do more homework but for now we’ll probably stick with the UK for this window. Then once we have more information going forward we’ll look at the summer window. “