New Hearts defender Aaron Hughes insists head coach Ian Cathro’s vision and a chance to enhance his Northern Ireland aspirations were major factors in moving to Tynecastle on a deal until the end of the season.
The 37-year-old was unveiled as part of a double signing yesterday after the Gorgie outfit also recruited former Hamilton left-back Lennard Sawoh on a contract until May.
Vastly experienced former Newcastle United and Aston Villa player Hughes has returned to the UK after playing in India with Kerala Blaststers and in Australia at Melbourne City.
He is well known to Hearts assistant head coach Austin MacPhee, who is part of Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland backroom team, and admits his desire to play a part in his country’s bid to reach the 2018 World Cup was an attraction in moving to Edinburgh.
Hughes said: “I was keen to get back into it and I’m delighted to get everything finalised at Hearts. I’m really looking forward to what’s ahead.
“I was hoping, with the current Northern Ireland World Cup campaign, to come back and try and play at a level that is hopefully going to keep me involved with the national team.
“We’re doing okay in that and I think we’ve got a real good chance of possibly pushing for a place in the World Cup. While that’s all there and I’m fit enough and motivated, I’ll play as long as I can do.
“That was the idea of coming back to the UK and when the move came up here, if I can play, do well and be consistent – then that keeps me competing at a level which enables me to stay involved in the Northern Ireland team too.”
Hughes, who is his country’s most capped outfield player with 103 appearances, added: “Austin was the first point of contact really. He first mentioned it and it was something I was interested in from the initial conversation we had.
“I know Austin well, I’ve known him from the last few years. I know how he works, I know the type of guy he is. It is definitely good to have a familiar face here too.”
Hughes, who is seven years older than Cathro, admits he was taken aback by the former Newcastle and Valencia’s assistant manager’s passion for the game.
He added: “When you sit down and you hear someone talk about football, how he wants to play and what he wants to do, I was extremely impressed by him and that was another reason that I thought this could be a good challenge for me.
“I knew who he was without really knowing him but when I first sat down and spoke to him, it’s one of those things when first impressions are really big.
“I think he’s very motivated, very intelligent – he knows the game very, very well and you can see that from the places he’s worked at.”
Despite being in the twilight of his career, Hughes insists he would be open to the idea of remaining at Hearts beyond the end of the season.
He added: “Definitely, the question I keep asking myself is, ‘Can I still keeping motivating myself to do it?’. While I can and while my body still lets me, that’s where the motivation comes from.”
German left-back Sowah, meanwhile, is looking forward to continuing his career in Scotland after playing seven games, including a substitute appearance in a 3-3 draw with Hearts, during a three month spell at Accies.
The 24-year-old, who began his career with Portsmouth and has also played for Hamburg and Vestsjaelland, said: “I’m very happy to be here. It was nice playing at Hamilton because I had played in the UK before in England, and I loved the passion they have here.
“When I got the offer I was definitely really excited about, I thought about it and I thought it was the right decision to sign here.
“I’m looking forward to helping the team, I will give my best to use my experience to do well.”