CRAIG LEVEIN admits that Aidy White may have been out of Hearts’ league if not for his injury nightmare.
The Jambos gaffer accepts that he has taken a gamble on the former Leeds United and Barnsley star, who has not played a competitive match since January 28, 2017 due to a debilitating groin complaint.
However, the 27-year-old is back in full training and has been earning rave reviews during Hearts’ Irish training camp for his pace and wicked delivery.
Asked whether a fully fit White would have been out-with Hearts’ reach, Levein said: “Yes, and that was the risk and reward side of it.
“We were taking on somebody who hadn’t played for that length of time against what he could offer if we got him fully fit.
“Nobody would dispute that he was a really good player before his injury troubles started. He has had to be patient, so have we, because he’s been out for a long time.
“I can see signs that he’s going to be useful for us. His speed and technical ability are good.
“We hope things go according to plan. He has had a few niggles here and there, which I would expect after such a long period of inactivity, but I hope he will be okay.
“It isn’t just about getting to the point where he can start playing again – which he is at now. It’s about building up that resistance you need to play week-in, week-out. That’s another question that needs to be answered.
“But we can only talk about now and say he is in a good place.”
Levein, who battled a serious knee injury which cut his career short, is attuned to the mental torment White has endured during his spell on the sidelines.
He continued: “I had a period of time out with injury myself and it is difficult.
“His problem was exacerbated by the fact he didn’t know what it was. That is worse than knowing you have a particular injury and that you will be out for a period time. The uncertainty is the most worrying.
“Aidy has had to put up with that for quite a while. He isn’t out of the woods yet but there are definite signs that he is getting there.”
Meanwhile, Levein is aiming to replicate Hearts’ blistering start to last season which saw them rack up seven league wins on the bounce – and ensure they are not reliant on Steven Naismith riding to the rescue.
Naismith is still expected to join the Jambos on a permanent deal following his release by Norwich but it is understood the formalities are unlikely to be completed this month.
The Scotland internationalist will be playing catch-up to regain full fitness, especially given he missed the tail end of last season after knee surgery.
Nevertheless, Levein has urged his players to prove they can perform without Naismith.
Levein said: “We got off to a good start last season and we want the same this season. We have some tough fixtures early in the league campaign but that doesn’t particularly worry me.
“We did a lot of work last season securing mainstays on longer contracts, then we’ve added quality like [Craig] Halkett, Aidy White, [Conor] Washington and [Jamie] Walker.
“Young players are emerging and I’m hoping for improvement from other guys like Jake Mulraney, who kicked on towards the end of last season.”
Indeed, Mulraney was arguably Hearts’ most improved player in the final two months of the campaign, dazzling with his direct running and trickery – and has been rewarded with the number 11 jersey for the coming campaign.
And Levein reckons the sky is the limit for the amiable Irishman.
“His end product is what he’ll be measured on. His position requires goals and assists and if he can contribute those things he will become even more valuable. I hope he continues his progress.”