Joe Savage's role at Hearts revealed as new sporting director gets to work ahead of busy window

Recruitment is a sensitive topic at Hearts due to huge player turnover in recent years.

Joe Savage is Hearts' new sporting director.
Joe Savage is Hearts' new sporting director.

Joe Savage’s arrival as sporting director is intended to improve the vetting process. He starts work at Riccarton tomorrow with a mandate to help manager Robbie Neilson source quality new signings.

The 36-year-old left his job as head of recruitment at Preston North End to take up the new role in Edinburgh. His time as a lower-league Scottish footballer and backroom staff member at Hamilton ensures he knows the market here. He also boasts a bookful of useful English contacts.

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His eye for a player will be tested over the coming weeks and months, for Neilson wants at least one pacey winger and a striker this month.

The manager explained that Savage will play an important part in the recruitment process and admitted there should be fewer mistakes made when Hearts are signing players. Due to the element of risk involved, Neilson said there will always be one or two who don’t work out.

“We’ll both be involved in identifying players,” said Neilson. “I’ll speak to Joe and say I’m looking for ‘X’ kind of player, how the player fits into our structure, what kind of player he is.

“Joe will go and source four or five of them, we’ll sit down and look at them. Then I’ll make the decision and hopefully Joe will go and get the deal done.

“The recruitment side of it is so important nowadays and you need someone there that can deal with agents and allows me to focus on winning on a Saturday.

“Recruitment in any club has its good and bad periods. Over the course of the years we’ve recruited well at times. There are always ones that don’t make it. You have to tick as many boxes as you can.

“No matter who you bring in, it’s always a gamble and hopefully bringing Joe in and improving that area will allows us to make fewer mistakes. But there will always be mistakes because it’s the nature of football.

“You take a player from one club to another and it’s a different environment, it’s a different city, a different style of play, a different country, a different language. There’s a lot of ifs and buts when you bring someone in.”

Hearts owner Ann Budge sought a replacement for former director of football Craig Levein for months. Savage carries a slightly different title but will work extensively on player recruitment.

“I spoke to Ann when I first came in about the importance of getting a sporting director in,” said Neilson, who returned to Tynecastle in June. “Joe has great experience at Hamilton, Norwich and down at Preston. His contacts down south are second to none.

“I’ve had a few conversations with him about the targets we’re going to go after and the positions, and moving some of our players out as well. I think we need some freshness and another hit to get us through to the end of the season, but also building for next season.

“January is a difficult window because the good players are usually playing and teams don’t want to let them go. We have a number of targets and I think we’ve got a good chance of getting them.”

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