The way Christophe Berra has been axed by Daniel Stendel is brutal. Whatever you think of his performances of late, there aren’t many more committed to Hearts than Berra.
Turning 35 next month, 18-months are yet to run on his Hearts deal. By his own admission in the past, more time on the bench was forthcoming but he still remains loyal and committed to the Jambos cause.
Over ten years at the club, a Scottish Cup, domestic finals, European adventures, captaincy and 215 Hearts appearances, you’d like to think that may buy him some legroom at the club.
Not. A. Chance. Under Stendel’s new regime, there’s no room for sentiment. If you’re not part of his plans, you’re out the door, it doesn’t matter if you are Lionel Messi or David Vanecek.
First it was Glenn Whelan, now Berra’s been demoted to the Reserves. Whilst some don’t have much sympathy for Whelan, plenty feel sorry for Berra, especially when it’s visible how much this bombshell has hit him.
But is Berra’s treatment fair? Or is Stendel’s ruling with an iron fist approach the right way to tackle issues at the Premiership’s basement club?
Reserve demotion is cold-hearted
One thing that this decision has made clear is Stendel isn’t afraid to make the big decisions. Axing the captain, then banishing him to the Reserves until further notice, is bold at any club.
Axing someone with such influence and respect in the dressing room is a different kettle of fish. With all Berra’s offered to Hearts though, demoting him so bluntly has come under scrutiny.
In his first season back at Tynecastle, Berra was fearless. He brought leadership and defensive grit to the backline. The defender gets Hearts and the standards required to meet expectation.
He’s faced up Jambo issues better than most and has been honest about their struggles when others have hidden. A big tackle on Leigh Griffiths in August 2018 though is something he hasn’t fully recovered from.
It caused him knee damage and he’s never quite hit his high standards since. Stendel’s high-octane style was never going to suit Berra in his current condition so it’s no surprise to see him out the team.
Did it have to be in such brutal fashion though? Stendel could have benched him and kept his leadership around the dressing room. Berra’s been a good ambassador for the club and has always carried out his duties respectfully.
Whilst performances haven’t quite hit high heights this term, perhaps he does deserve to leave with more grace. Berra is a modern-day Hearts hero after all.
It’s just business
Football these days isn’t built on relationships and pondering on yesterday. It’s about results and sadly for Berra and Hearts, they haven’t been good enough this year.
They find themselves bottom of the league and cut adrift at the league’s basement. Huge changes are needed to change their fortunes or Stendel’s side will crash and burn into the Championship.
Berra’s been a regular and performances haven’t been great across the whole squad, not just him personally. He has been left exposed on one too many occasions and is now paying the price for it.
Stendel’s teams play gegenpressing football and Berra simply can’t keep up. Whilst still dominant in the air, one turn of pace and there isn’t much Berra can do anymore.
Stendel needs reliable options and unfortunately Berra isn’t going to fit that mould. It’s a shame as Hearts fans would want nothing more than their captain to succeed, but no man is bigger than the club.
It’s down to a case of need rather than want. Once John Souttar’s back, he’ll fill in at centre-half next to Craig Halkett. The 34-year-old’s end was approaching but perhaps it wasn’t thought out to be this dramatic.
Berra will have plenty of suitors and will do a job for someone elsewhere. In this cut-throat industry, you either ride the wave or end up lost at sea.
Many crave the fairytale ending of Berra bringing this sinking Hearts ship back to dock, but instead, he’s been cast out to unknown shores.