BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson admits luckless Soufian El Hassnaoui may not return to the Jambos side until next season.
The Dutch-Moroccan striker was one of the capital club’s marquee signings in the summer of 2014, penning a three-year deal following his arrival from Sparta Rotterdam and hailed as “a talent” by Neilson.
However, he has endured a 18 months of injury hell in Gorgie.
Groin surgery curtailed his debut for the club and he went on to make just 19 appearances last season after suffering a deceptively severe ankle injury against Rangers mid-way through the campaign.
After battling to regain fitness last summer, El Hassnaoui suffered more heartbreak in pre-season when he suffered cruciate ligament damage in a fixture against Preston North End which sidelined him for five months. A further groin complaint then derailed his recovery and he is yet to play a senior game this term.
Despite turning out for the under-20s, the former De Graafschap striker is still struggling for form and fitness, and Neilson concedes that, as it stands, he does not envision El Hassnaousi playing a major role in Hearts’ Europa League chase.
However, he is hopeful the player will be ready to hit the ground running in the final year of his contract.
Neilson said: “Soufian has found it difficult to get his fitness levels up and things like that. It’s been a really difficult year for him.
“He came here injured, had an operation which didn’t work, had to get another operation. He then played and got a serious knee injury, got back to fitness for last pre-season and then did his other knee. He then did his hamstring after struggling to get back.
“So it’s obviously been a really difficult period for Soufian but we are still hopeful we can build him back up.
“Will he back this season? We need to see how it goes. As it stands, I don’t see him being part of things because he has struggled fitness-wise. I think we are maybe looking at next season.”