Hearts owner insists Manchester City interest in teenager proves academy is in good health


Hearts owner Ann Budge insists Manchester City’s interest in Aaron Hickey proves that the club’s academy structure is in good health.

And taking into account Japanese attacking midfielder Ryotaro Meshino’s imminent arrival on loan from City, Budge hopes this is just the start of a long-lasting working relationship English champions.

Versatile left-back Hickey has been linked with a £1.5 million January move to the Etihad stadium after delivering hugely impressive first team displays, including in the Scottish Cup final, since making his debut at Aberdeen last May.

Should the move go through, the 17-year-old is expected to be loaned back to Craig Levein’s team for the rest of the season before linking up with City’s development squad.

After inheriting an academy that was on it’s knees following years of neglect under the Vladimir Romanov’s stewardship, Budge insists the emergence Hickey is testament to the work and investment behind the scenes.

Asked if the player’s link to Pep Guardiola’s side was a compliment, Budge replied: “Yes, I think it is something we have been working on. 

“So many things in football are changing at the minute, including how you go about recruiting and we have been working hard to make that work, and it is terrific when someone like that comes in and says ‘I really like that young player’. 

“So hopefully we will see that again and we do want more of that. 

“We always said that the academy spend had been almost non existent, so we weren’t starting again but almost. 

“There was never going to be a quick fix but we are now seeing players coming through

“I know Craig has said the bit that gets him excited is when he sees these young players coming on and getting a chance in the first team because that’s really what it’s all about.

“So yes, it’s terrific for us all when we see them coming through.”

Far East

Hearts also hope to have winger Meshino’s proposed season-long deal completed before the weekend’s clash with Hamilton.

As well as enhancing the first team squad, Budge admits the 21-year-old’s arrival could have significant spin offs in boosting the Hearts brand in the Far East.

The club are also planning to launch a Japanese section on their website.

Budge, who was speaking yesterday as she helped make the draw for the SSE Scottish Women’s Cup quarter-final – the final of which will take place at Tynecastle on November 24, added: “Absolutely (it could help Hearts’ profile), and in terms of the Japanese culture, the Japanese fans support the players and we therefore hope there will be an elevation in terms of the recognition of Hearts as well.

“It is a big thing for us and for Scottish football as well.

“It has been a while since we had a Japanese player over here and football is global. 

“We know that and everyone has to recognise that.”

Man City

As well as the interest in Hickey and Meshino’s proposed switch, Budge hopes Hearts can lean on City for future assistance.

She added: “I think it’s part of our recruitment strategy, for want of a better word, to try to make these links.

“It can be beneficial for both clubs and the player, so it’s something we work hard on.

“I think when you try to grow any kind of business, partnerships are crucial.

“And when it’s a supplier, a customer or whatever, you have to put a lot of effort into partnerships.

“And if you choose the right ones they can be very beneficial.

“Just because of this and the number of people from these clubs who have come to watch our games there is a knock on effect.”

Budge, meanwhile, insists they are delighted to be hosting the women’s cup final on the back of the female team at Tynecastle becoming fully integrated at the club at the tail end of last year.

She added: “When I first came in, I thought Hearts women were part of the club. 

“They use the logo and name, so I was shocked to discover it’s an entirely independent set-up. From a very early point, I thought: ‘We’ve got to fix this.’ 

“We had other things to deal with then but it was always there. 

“It was always a big commitment taking it on but we want to do it properly.”