Berra lands five-year deal at Hearts

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The Independent Football

The Heart of Midlothian head coach, Valdas Ivanauskas, has handed Christophe Berra a new five-year deal and claimed the 21-year-old defender is ready to fill the gap left by the Scotland international Andy Webster.

Previously a mainstay of the Jambos' defence, Webster fell out with the Gorgie club last season and has invoked a Fifa clause allowing him to walk away from Tynecastle after completing three years of a four-year contract.

While Webster's future is unclear, Hearts take on the Bosnian champions Siroki Brijeg in the first leg of their Champions' League second qualifying round tie at Murrayfield tonight.

Ahead of the Tynecastle club's first foray into Europe's premier club competition, Ivanauskas revealed that Berra and 18-year-old striker Jamie Mole had both signed new deals.

Ivanauskas claims Berra is ready to step straight into the first team. He said: "We had some good news today, Christophe and Jamie have signed five-year contracts. I'm happy, Christophe did well last season. We had many players in his position so he did not play regularly but he has the chance this year. He is good enough to replace Andy now.

"He played in some hard games and pressure games last season and he played well in pre-season. So he is ready for the big games and he has a big future if he works hard. Champions' League games are for experienced players and we have players with some European experience and young boys. But for the young boys it's a big chance."

Ivanauskas admits that bringing back Neil McCann into the side after a six-month absence would be a risk but hinted that the Scotland international could start against the Bosnians. McCann, who injured a knee at Kilmarnock in January in his second debut for the Tynecastle club, has featured in pre-season friendlies against Osasuna and Livingston.

Ivanauskas said: "It's a big risk. There is no problem with his injury, that is forgotten about, but mentally and physically he is not ready for 90 minutes.

"Neil did well against Osasuna and Livingston but he has been out for six or seven months through injury.

"But he has a big chance to play because experience is important. If you are a young boy coming back from injury you may play hard for 30 minutes then fall away but Neil has great experience.

"I have only seen him for 24 minutes at Kilmarnock but I know he played for Rangers and Southampton. He is a good professional, hard-working and is a good example for the young boys, but we will wait and see."

Ivanauskas will make a late decision on Julien Brellier ahead of the match. The French midfielder has been struggling with a hamstring injury and is rated doubtful for the game at Murrayfield. But the midfielder Paul Hartley (groin) and the defender Jose Goncalves (hip) will not play against the Bosnian champions.

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