Hearts manager Craig Levein admits a cross-border loophole led to the club landing the highly-rated Sean Clare for only £130,000 when the midfielder would have cost seven-figures in England.
The early Premiership leaders have benefited from the same regulations that allowed Celtic to buy Moussa Dembele from Fulham for a paltry £500,000 two years ago before selling the French striker to Lyon for £19.7 million last month.
Clare became Levein’s 18th summer signing on Sunday after his contract at Sheffield Wednesday expired during the summer.
Levein’s initial plan was to sign the 21-year-old on loan but admits he is thrilled at being able to land the versatile playmaker on a three-year permanent deal.
Levein, whose side will attempt to maintain their flawless Premiership start with a sixth straight win over Livingston tomorrow, said: “Why I think this is a really good deal for us is we’re getting a player who we normally wouldn’t get.
“He was going to one of a number of Championship, or even Premier League clubs who were interested.
“The idea was that we would then take him on loan. Because obviously his wages would be way beyond what we can afford.
“He had an injury, had to get a foot operation in March – and pre-season was gone, people have already signed their players just when he was getting fit.
“What has been good for us is that, for him to go from Sheffield Wednesday to another Championship club or a Premier League club in England, if they don’t agree on a fee, it would go to a tribunal. And it could be set at seven figures.
‘Cross-border compensation is more straightforward, black and white. They’re a category two club, we’re a category two club.
“So it’s 60,000 Euros for every year he was at Sheffield Wednesday – and he’s been there two-and-a-half years.
“The question then became could we find 150,000 Euros to invest in a player we would normally not be able to sign.”
Levein, who picked up the Ladbrokes Premiership Manager of the Month award for August yesterday, insists the sheer size of his squad, which he describes as the strongest he has worked with across his two spells in the Tynecastle dugout, helps guard against complacency setting in.
He added: “We’ve set off at a good pace and it’s a question of whether we keep that going.
“That’s why I think having this strong squad, having boys like Sean Clare in the group, bringing Demi Mitchell and Steven Naismith back, these are all assets for what is going to be a long haul.
“If you don’t have a strong squad the manager’s job is a lot more about cajoling and making sure everyone is at it for every single match.
“If you have competition for places they just turn round and look at the bench and think: ‘I had better get my finger out’.”
Levein admits that fierce competition means training sessions are not for the faint-hearted.
He added: “When the training is good and at its best it is when everybody is flying into tackles and I love that.
“It’s like a match and if you can train the way you play, with that intensity, then it makes things easier on the Saturday.
“I’m fortunate to have quite a few who are happy to get stuck in.
“And people quickly realise that, if you’re not switched on, you get hurt.
“That means the tempo goes to a level where everyone is moving the ball quickly and not getting caught.
“But the experienced players are the ones who keep an eye on everyone.”