HEARTS head coach Ian Cathro insists his long-term vision is to have a side filled with homegrown players – and is adamant that the club is not losing its identity.
Cathro recruited nine new players during the January transfer window, with 37-year-old Northern Ireland international defender Aaron Hughes the only one from the United Kingdom.
The lack of a local spine in the side has been cited as a reason for the team’s poor form by some critics, with Hearts winning six matches from 21 games in all competition since Cathro replaced Robbie Neilson last December.
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But with eight youngsters to be handed full-time professional contracts this summer as the club’s youth academy gets back on its feet following years of neglect under Vladimir Romanov, former Dundee United youth director Cathro insists he will always look to promote youth.
He said: “We had to add numbers to the squad during the last transfer window because it the squad was short, and to be able to make improvements.
“It was a case of assessing the market, going as we went and trying to make progress in each move we made.
“In those situations, it’s difficult to bring in British players and it’s difficult to bring in those things.
“You can understand why people then start to think there is a bit missing or to even question, ‘Are they starting to go a different way here?’ Which has never, ever been the case and never will be the case for this club. They’re not even my words, they’re the words of this club.
“The development of academy players and the further development of young Scottish players will always be the most important thing for this club.
“What’s important is that they’re at the level they need to be at to be in the team.
“It would be magnificent if there was six or seven home grown players in the squad and if the team was all Scottish, but if that team is at the bottom of the league then no one is going to be happy with that.”
“There is a need for a blend, a need for a balance, and we work towards that.”
Euan Henderson, Dean Ritchie, Jay Sandison, Anthony McDonald, Connor Smith and Christopher Hamilton, Harry Cochrane and Marc Leonard will also join the full-time ranks at Hearts in the coming months.
And Cathro, who helped coach the likes of Hearts defender John Souttar and Sporting Lisbon midfielder Ryan Gauld when they were kids, insists the promotion of the eight players is proof that the club’s academy is now functioning properly.
He added: “With the young players joining us, it’s the first insight into what’s happened post-Ann Budge I suppose, re-injecting more cash and time into the structure. I think it’s a really exciting time.”