CRAIG LEVEIN believes Sean Clare is now tough enough to shine in the Hearts engine room following a crash course in Scottish football.
Clare, 22, arrived at Tynecastle amid much fanfare last summer after the Jambos fought off competition from a host of suitors south of the border to seal a £150,000 deal.
However, he toiled to adapt to the frenetic nature of the SPFL and, with the game often passing him by in the heart of midfield, he found himself either shunted out to the flank or utilised behind the striker.
That was never the plan as far as Levein was concerned and he reckons Clare is ready for a fresh start in a deeper position following his baptism of fire last term.
“Sean understands the game more than he did when he arrived,” explained Levein. “Every league has its own idiosyncrasies.
“Certain things important in some leagues aren’t as important in others. Coming into a league for the first time, you have to understand what’s important.
“Sean took a long time last season to understand that the ball changes hands in Scotland more than any other country. The game becomes more about anticipation and reading second-ball situations to get control of the ball and possession.
“I always planned to play him in central midfield, but if he’s not as aware of what the most important things are then he ends up playing out on the side. Now he does understand and he has an awful lot to offer.”
Clare’s efforts to find his feet in a new country and different style of football was further hindered by his battle to regain full fitness which left him, in Levein’s words, playing ‘catch-up’ from the outset.
Clare was still recovering from foot surgery when he joined Hearts and did not make his first start for the club until a 0-0 draw against Hibernian on October 31.
And Levein added: “He came in last year with an injury, didn’t have a pre-season and was trying to play catch-up. That doesn’t help in these scenarios where he needs to be sharper mentally than opponents.”