Andy Kirk sees Hearts replacement John Souttar as no transfer as he relives his Euro glory days

29 May 2022 | 08:44 | Football

It’s been 22 years since Heart beat Bundesliga giants Stuttgart at Tynecastle but Andy Kirk can still feel the energy as if it were yesterday.

The former Northern Ireland striker recalls the buzz that reverberated around Gorgie that evening and insists he could experience very little that he experienced for any club or country. matchable despite ultimately ending in a painful away goal.

Kirk, now Brechin coach, can’t wait to see those special Euro nights back on his old pitch after the summer. Robbie Neilson – the second extra time in the match against Stuttgart – did wonders to guide Jambos to be a Europa League play-off spot after finishing in third in the Premiership.

Even if they lose, the consolation of a Conference League group stage spot ensures big nights in the capital – and a breeze in the coffers.

Only once in the past decade have Jambos ventured into continental football, and not since the 2004-05 season have they reached the group stage of a Euro competition. And Kirk said: “It’s a terrible achievement to reach the group stage and secure a spot in European football until Christmas.

“I played against Stuttgart in 2000 at Tynecastle and it was one of the best nights of my career. I will never forget the atmosphere in that game, the noise and the energy under the lights, it was phenomenal.

“We won 3-2 last night and it was unlucky to have to lose away from home. Gordon Petric had a great chance near the end but he couldn’t score and we were out.

“But what a night it was, a night I will always remember. When Tynecastle is rocking, it’s an unbelievable stadium to play in. “

Kirk returned to Hearts as a youth team coach under Neilson in 2016 and found that the rookie boss had something special.

He thinks there is a legacy being built under his former teammate. Kirk said: “Even then you can see how hard he worked and how dedicated he was to the club.

Andy Kirk opened the scoring for Hearts in a 5-1 win at Tynecastle

“He’s had a great season taking third place, Europe and the Cup Final. They signed some really good players.

“I am sure he will be back in the summer to strengthen the squad and try to develop even more next season.

“Knowing Robbie, he wouldn’t be happy just to settle. He will want to push and build an even stronger side.

“He has a solid foundation to build on and these boys will try to keep improving.

“They have the likes of Liam Boyce, Barrie McKay, Cammy Devlin and then they have a good academy with young players coming out. There are exciting times ahead at Tynecastle. “

One of the biggest challenges facing the Tynecastle home side this summer is how to replace the already tied Rangers. John Souttar. That’s a big deal Kirk thinks it might require changing the system rather than trying to find a similar replacement.

He said: “Can you replace John Souttar immediately? I do not think so. He is a top quality player but they will have to find a solution to fill that void.

“It could be a change of the system or they might have someone else arrange it. John’s technique is very good, his passing stats are excellent.

“At a top team you can see him tackle around, looking world class. He has all the attributes to have a great career.”

Kirk is speaking to promote the PFA Scotland exit trials at Broadwood, culminating in a showcase match on Saturday.

“Football is a tough industry,” he said. Everyone dreams of a full-time career but not everyone can do it and we have to show them options.

“The number of players who completely leave the game is insane. There is a lot of talent here and in the right club at the right time where they can do well.

“The more exposure they have, the more opportunities they will hopefully have.”

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