Time In Charge: 3 and a half years
Highest League Finish: 4th in SPL (19/20, 20/21)
Honours: Scottish Cup Runners-Up (19/20)
Predicted Finish: 6th
FM19 Save: Here
PES20 Team: Here
This save had a bit of a weird concept. It was another network save with my mate Tom, who I mentioned in the Blackpool and Bordeaux intros and we called it the “Head Coach Challenge”. Basically, we were the head coach of our clubs and nothing more. Buying and selling, contract renewals and staff signing was all left to our directors of football, but we did allow ourselves 1 transfer per window that we could choose ourselves. Tom actually stopped playing after the 2nd season and I played on for 18 months without those restrictions, but yeah that’s how it started. He was big shot Europa League side Hibs and I was poor, penniless Hearts.
TLDR: We finished 6th, 4th and 4th in the league, got beaten in the Scottish Cup Final by Celtic on penalties and in the Europa League 3rd Qualifying round by Slavia Prague on away goals. This season we’re below par in the league but looking good in the Europa Group stage.
Because of our self-imposed restrictions and Hearts’ absolutely woeful financial situation, I decided early on to lean heavily into the only thing that I could control: Developing youth. Throughout the first season the vast majority of my lazy, underperforming and overpaid first team were transfer listed and sent to train with the reserves while my youth players were drafted into the first team squad. We didn’t do that badly in the first season considering this upheaval, finishing as the best of the rest but a long way behind a top 5 of Celtic, Rangers, Hibs, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock. The second season some of my young ‘uns found their stride and we climbed above both Killy and Aberdeen to 4th and a Europa League qualifying spot, while also narrowly missing out on Scottish Cup glory after a loss against Celtic on penalties. In our third season we progressed, still only maintaining a 4th place finish in the SPL but accruing 8 points more than the previous year. We did lose our Europa League 3rd Qualifying Round tie against Slavia Prague on away goals after a 5-5 aggregate draw though, which was gutting. In our current season we’re 6th in the league and beat PSV Eindhoven and hammered Levski Sofia to reach the group stages of the Europa though, where we’ve so far picked up 2 wins from 4 games, leaving us just 1 point below the qualification spots for the knockouts.
No 46 – Matthew Spencer – Goalkeeper
Spencer’s a new signing at Tynecastle Park, having joined on a free from Barnet in the Summer. Goalkeeper’s a position we’ve really struggled with during my tenure and at only 19 he’s a really good prospect, so I’m developing him as best I can. He’s doing well so far and has conceded 20 goals in 20 games.
No 32 – Diego “Diegui” Johannesson Pando – Right Back
For a club that’s spent £3.72M over 3 and a half seasons, a £500k outlay for one player is big, big money. I brought Diegui (His nickname, not mine) in from Real Oviedo in 2020 as his attributes were solid across the board and as an Icelandic international he could give our young squad some experience. He’s done just that and has been a good purchase I think, averaging just over a 7 rating last season and just below so far this season.
No 4 – Ben Sheaf – Centre Back
Ben Sheaf’s one of the most rounded defensive players I’ve ever seen and when Arsenal released him in 2020 I absolutely pounced. He can play anywhere but in net and in the final third and is a very consistent performer. He’s an incredibly useful player to have.
No 6 – Jake Clarke-Salter – Centre Back
Like Sheaf, Clarke-Salter was also released by a big London club, namely Chelsea. Brought in this Summer, he’s so far performed incredibly well, especially in Europe, and can hopefully form a long lasting partnership in defence with Sheaf.
No 3 – Finn Ecrepont – Left Back
Finn was one of my “One signing per window” signings back in the day – A £20k buy from Ayr in the first January window. He broke into the side 18 months later and had a terrific 20/21 season, but then heartbreakingly decided that he was going to let his contract run down, so in January I let him go to Spurs for free… But with a cheeky 50% buy-on clause. We’ve got him back on loan for this season and he’s doing alright.
No 8 – Craig Sibbald – Deep Playmaker
Craig is one of only 2 of my director of football’s dealings that has actually stood the test of time and stayed in my first team squad. He was brought in in 2019/20 for £500k and initially I cried and cried at that much money being spunked up the wall when I could do nothing to stop it, but he’s good! Average rating hovering around 7 every season, 14 goals and 13 assists in 108 appearances and it’s handy having a good penalty taker around. Not too shabby.
No 11 – Aaron Hickey – Box to Box Mid
Aaron Hickey (SI’s spelling mistake, not mine) epitomises my youth-first approach in this save for me. He’s got great talent and even in my first season when he was 16 years old he made 13 appearances. He was fucking awful, but luckily he’s been much, much better in the 2 and a half years since when he’s been an important part of our team. He’s prone to the odd screamer and the odd 2 footed lunge, so it’s always exciting to have him in the squad.
No 7 – Brandon Barker – Right Wing
Brandon was another of my “one-per-window” signings when he was released by Manchester City in 2019. He’s exactly the injection of quality we needed at the time and has been really good on whichever wing I’ve played him on, scoring 30 and setting up 17 in 106 games.
No 16 – Connor Smith – Attacking Mid
Connor’s another academy lad and like Hickey, he’s been in and around the squad since my first season. I saw him as Hearts’ answer to Steven Gerrard so as well as being a first team starter since my second season, he was made club captain in 2020. 27 goals and 13 assists in 114 games so far and he’s still got a lot of growing to do.
No 10 – Sean Clare – Left Inside Forward
Sean was brought in just before I arrived and has really stood the test of time cutting in from the left wing. He’s often made the difference for us, scoring 29 times and assisting 27 goals in 132 games.
No 9 – Dylan Munro – Striker
Dylan’s my absolute favourite from this side though. He emerged from the academy in my first season and went straight into the starting line up at 16, where he’s been ever since. 50 goals for Hearts and 6 for Scotland at 18 years old. He’s got a big future.
The rest of the squad is fairly young as you can imagine, but does have a few experienced heads in it. Kelly, Godinho, Gallagher, Marshall and Kane have all been around a little bit, while the rest have a tonne of potential but aren’t quite at the level yet. The squad’s average age is a major factor in why they’re predicted 6th and I think if I’d played them for a couple more years they’d be real contenders for at least a top half finish.
As PES isn’t quite as tactically flexible as FM, Hearts will be playing quite a standard, positive system. Again, the full backs push up and again the wingers cut in as I’m not sure how to keep Barker out wide. It was a fun save and they’ll have a good go, bless em, but I don’t see good times ahead for Hearts in this league.