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Hearts season preview: Craig Levein will make sure of standards – and passion

© SNSJamie Walker in action for Hearts
Jamie Walker in action for Hearts

An enigma wrapped in a manager’s jacket, Craig Levein oscillates between being the Premiership’s shrewdest employer of nod-and-a-wink mind games and its most earnest curmudgeon.

It’s tough to know how to take the Hearts boss.

But for all his intermittent, and doubtless deliberate, inscrutability, one thing is always clear – he is a football man at heart.

That’s why he stepped into the dugout after Ian Cathro’s removal.

It’s why he’s still there now, despite the vexations of the job.

Managing the club you love can’t be easy. In fact, switching off must be impossible.

But Levein’s approach brings its positives.

While he is at the helm, there will always be passion in the Tynecastle dressing room, and there will always be standards.

At times, the football might not be pretty to watch.

But effectiveness, rather than aesthetics, is what Levein seems to strive for. When it works, it can be thrillingly swashbuckling.

That’s what Hearts fans will hope to see this season.

And while there is much about the club’s boss that provokes uncertainty, he will, without doubt, be striving to deliver it.

Transfers

In: Jamie Walker, Conor Washington, Craig Halkett, Aidy White.

Out: Arnaud Djoum, Conor Sammon, David Vanecek, Marcus Godinho, Malaury Martin, Aaron Hughes, Ryan Edwards.

On balance, this transfer window so far looks to have been more good than bad for the Jam Tarts.

Of those to depart, only Arnaud Djoum will really be missed. Conor Sammon, David Vanecek and Malaury Martin will not.

Ex-Livingston defender Craig Halkett looked to be their headline arrival until Jamie Walker’s return to Tynecastle from Wigan.

Walker has struggled with a knee problem in recent times, but it is hoped surgery to remove a bone spur has now cured the problem.

If Hearts fans see the same player who departed for England last summer, his capture will be celebrated long and loud by the Gorgie punters.

Both Conor Washington and Aidy White, meanwhile, have solid EFL Championship pedigree, but time will tell whether they adapt to the subtle – and often not so subtle – differences between the game north and south of the border.

Target

Europe and a trophy. It is as simple as that. And why should it be any more complicated?

Hearts should be among our game’s biggest hitters outside of Celtic and Rangers.

Last year’s sixth-place finish didn’t satisfy anybody at Tynie.

There were mitigating circumstances, not least a horrendous run of injuries to key players. But Hearts fans expect more from their side.

They fell short too often in the league last season. However, their powerful, purposeful performance against Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final hinted at a team capable of doing some serious damage.

If they can keep their top men fit, they will be a force to be reckoned with. If not, they will have to do the reckoning.