Hearts manager Craig Levein has likened the timely offer of players from Manchester United to getting a call from Santa Claus after recruiting goalkeeper Joel Pereira on loan.
Levein secured a season-long deal for the 23-year-old on Wednesday, with the Portuguese set to be handed his debut in this evening’s televised Betfred Cup last-16 tie at Motherwell.
At the time he received a call from United academy player performance manager Les Parry tendering assistance, Levein had been considering reinforcing his options in that position in the wake of Zdenek Zlamal’s unconvincing performance in last weekend’s goal-less draw with Ross County.
The relationship with Parry was forged during Demi Mitchell’s loans at Tynecastle during the previous two campaigns.
Pereira’s arrival alongside that of vastly experienced Republic of Ireland midfielder Glenn Whelan 24 hours later, and Levein’s pursuit of Manchester City midfielder Ryotaro Meshino on loan, has lifted some of the gloom that descended on Gorgie following a dispiriting performance at home on Saturday.
Levein, therefore, is grateful to the Red Devils for initiating contact.
“Bobby (Zlamal) has suffered the last little while,” said Levein. “He is a brilliant guy but I just feel that Bobby had to come out of the team.
“I just felt that I wanted to bring in somebody who could go in immediately and calm everybody down and make them feel relaxed defensively, which is important.
“Virtually the same moment I was thinking about all of these things I got a call from Manchester United asking if I was needing anything?
“It is almost like Santa Claus phoning you and asking you ‘what is it you are wanting again’?
“Les Parry does the loan deals for Man Utd and he has been up when Demi was up here and he has been here a lot.
“It is through the Demi loan deal that we have developed a relationship with Man Utd.
“We keep in touch regularly and the relationship has flourished since then.
“Joel is well regarded and everybody I have spoken to says he possesses the right character to do well.
“I made a lot of phone calls to people at Man U who know the boy himself and everything that came back was hugely positive.
“He has trained really well and there has been a change, and sometimes that lightens people’s mood and that is one thing we needed to do after last Saturday.”
Hearts’ rapport with the other half of Manchester, expressly through assistant coach Austin MacPhee, is part of the reason they are hoping to recruit 21-year-old Japanese attacker Meshino.
However, that move is further complicated by the fact that Hearts need to obtain a work permit for a player who only moved to England from Gamba Osaka in his homeland last week.
Levein added: “Austin MacPhee is close with Andy Cousins, who works with Northern Ireland and Manchester City (as a scout).
“That is how the two things have happened with Joel coming in and Austin, who can speak Japanese, helping in relation to Japanese boy.
“We’re going through this process but the kid and his agent haven’t actually said ‘we’re definitely coming here’, so we’re trying to pre-empt the situation and have the thing (work permit) ready to go because there isn’t an awful lot of time.
“Basically you make your appeal to the panel and the decision is made while you’re still in the building.
“For me it’s a no-brainer. When you see the kid play, wow. He’s really talented. So I’m hopeful.”
Meanwhile, Levein, who admitted that forward Steven Naismith will miss this evening’s clash due to a minor hamstring strain – while Whelan’s lack of match sharpness is likely to see the 35-year-old sit out, has stressed to his players that the lacklustre performance against County must not be repeated.
He added: “I’ve tried to give the players a boost by adding quality.
“But for me the benchmark was set. That was the worst performance we can ever have – and don’t forget it.
“There was a lack of fight, determination and we got caught up in our own heads listening to the crowd.”