BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Adam Eckersley remains “baffled” by the manner of his departure from Hearts – but reckons he is now part of a better squad than the Jambos outfit which romped to the Championship title last term.
The former Manchester United youngster was axed by the Gorgie side at the end of last season, despite claiming he had been verbally assured a new contract would be forthcoming by head coach Robbie Neilson.
He subsequently crossed the Edinburgh divide, joining Hibernian in September, albeit his lengthy recovery from a knee operation in the summer has meant he is yet to make his debut for Alan Stubbs’ men.
Eckersley, now 100 per cent fit and pushing for a maiden appearance, is determined to look to the future but concedes that, even six months after being told he was surplus to requirements at Tynecastle, he still cannot get his head around the way it was handled.
He said candidly: “I still remember the conversation with the gaffer [Neilson] and I can’t make heads or tails of it, but it was his and the club’s decision.
“What still baffles me is the way they went about it; the way they told me. All the time, right up to my final meeting on the Thursday, they said: ‘You’re going to get a contract’ then on the Thursday I was told: ‘You’re not getting a contract.
“That’s the thing that still baffles me. But I’ve let that go now and have moved on. They obviously had someone in line for the position and, a couple of months later, I found out they were getting a Nigerian internationalist [Juwon Oshaniwa].
“But even if they had let me go in a normal manner, I would still have had no problem crossing the divide. It’s just football and players move about all the time. It’s a short career and you have to do the best for your family.
“I got a bit of backlash on social media but I was expecting that and it is nothing I couldn’t handle. If you sign yourself up to social media, twitter and Instagram, it is a direct line for people to come straight at you.
“I have grown a very, very thick skin. You read the stuff that people say and you brush it off and carry on with your day. It doesn’t affect me in the slightest.
“I meet a lot of Hearts fans who have been good to me, too, and have said: ‘You did great for us last year and wish you all the best’. That’s nice to hear because I feel like I did do a job for them last year.”
Despite, the contentious nature of Eckersley’s Hearts exit – which even shocked many Jambos – can reflect with pride on the part he played in the team which won promotion to the Premiership last season.
He made 27 appearances following his arrival from AGF Aarhus and helped Hearts claim the Championship title, setting a record points for the second tier of 91.
Yet, Eckersley believes Hibs have assembled a more complete squad than Hearts possessed, despite the capital club currently trailing a much-improved Rangers side by five points.
He continued: “This squad must have 23 or 24 good players, if they wanted to they could put out two different 11s which would make a good fist of things in this division.
“The strength in depth we have in the squad might even be superior to last year [at Hearts], because we had a few young lads on the bench last year. Whereas, everyone here could come into the team and do a job.
“Hibs have thought about every single player they have brought in. If one player gets injured, you are replacing a first-teamer with another player that can do a job at this level.”
Eckersley is not the only man to have crossed the Edinburgh divide this season, with James Keatings now illustrating his worth for Hibs after being released by the Jambos during the summer.
The 23-year-old bagged a hat-trick and has already won over the Hibees faithful – which comes as no surprise to Eckersley.
He added: “Keatsy shows that the you put your boots on and wear a green kit instead of a maroon kit, if you do the business then there will be no hard feelings from the Hibs fans.
“As long as you are fighting for the club and the badge, that’s all that matters.
“I was surprised when he left Hearts. He called me when I was down south and said: ‘Ecks, I’m leaving Hearts’. I knew he had one year left on his contract and it was a big shock to me.
“But that is football, some strange decisions are made and, despite playing for many years, things still happen that I don’t understand.”
With his contract due to expire in January, Eckersley has a finite opportunity to establish himself at Easter Road, a task made doubly difficult given the form of the club and, in particular, first-choice left-back Lewis Stevenson.
However, having expressed a desire to try his hand in MLS at some stage, Eckersley is calm about his future.
He added: “I am keeping my options open right now I am not thinking of anything past January. I’m a Hibs player at the moment and I am going to get myself as fit as I possibly can and hopefully I can break into the team.
“America is still in my thoughts and has been since I was about 25. I have always wanted to go to America and give it a shot. My little brother [Richard] was there, playing for NY Red Bulls and Toronto and he absolutely loved it.”