Neil Alexander bemoans lack of 'loyalty' at Hearts before Aberdeen move

By Jonathan SutherlandBBC Scotland
Neil Alexander
Neil Alexander joined Aberdeen for pre-season training

New Aberdeen goalkeeper Neil Alexander claims there is "no loyalty in football" following his departure from Premiership rivals Hearts.

Alexander, 38, says a proposed new contract at Tynecastle was withdrawn at the 11th hour by boss Robbie Neilson.

"Everything was going fine. After the season I got a phone call from the manager, met him and they pulled the contract off the table," he said.

Neilson insists there is no bad blood between himself and Alexander.

The Hearts head coach says he made the "tough" decision because he felt understudy Jack Hamilton, 22, is ready for first-team football.

Hamilton has played 10 senior games for the club over the past two seasons, but was called into the Scotland squad for the end-of-season friendlies with Italy and France after two other keepers pulled out.

Former Rangers goalkeeper Alexander, capped three times by Scotland, moved to Hearts in 2014 after a year at Crystal Palace.

He helped Neilson's side win the Scottish Championship and then finish third in their first season back in the Premiership.

After no new deal was agreed at Tynecastle,he took up the offer of a one-year contract at Pittodrie, while Hearts signed goalkeeper Paul Gallacher from Partick Thistle as a player-coach last week.

'He had made his mind up'

"We had been negotiating a contract since Christmas," Alexander explained.

"There was never any issues, it was just a case of getting the contract finalised, drawn up and getting it signed. We were at that point and it was just taken off the table.

Hearts players celebrating
Alexander enjoyed his two years at Hearts

"The manager had his reasons, it is not for me to discuss. He told me the reasons - whether I agreed or disagreed, that was it. He had made his mind up, he firmly set it out that it was his decision. He had a gut feeling about what he wanted to do and he is sticking by his decision.

"It is disappointing. I felt I had had a really good season, a really good two seasons to be honest. Working with the manager every day in the office, being one of the coaching staff - that is probably the most disappointing thing.

"But these things happen in football. There is no loyalty in football, as they say. It happens all over the country. I was disappointed, I really enjoyed my time at Hearts, I had a great time, got on well with the fans and everything.

"I am disappointed not to be there but I am really grateful to the manager here [at Aberdeen] to give me the opportunity to stay and play at a high level."

'Responsibility to develop players' - Neilson

Hearts boss Neilson is still hoping to bring in an experienced goalkeeper to compete with Hamilton, with 36-year-old player-coach Gallacher the current back-up.

Jack Hamilton in action for Hearts against Ross County in May
Hamilton has had loan spells at Stenhousemuir, Forfar, East Stirling and East Fife

"I do believe Jack has got the potential to be a top goalkeeper and hopefully we can give him the platform to do it here," said Neilson, who admitted releasing Alexander was a "tough decision".

"My job is to make decisions that are right for this football club and the team, and sometimes you have to make decisions that people are not happy with," he explained. "But that is the nature of being a manager.

"I just felt Jack was getting to that stage where he was ready to go and play. He needed that opportunity.

"I spoke at the end of last season about putting him out on loan, but he came in and played a lot of big games towards the end and went away with the international team and did really well.

"I have a responsibility to develop players as well. It can be easy to develop a striker or a wide player because you can give them 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there, a half there over the course of 15 or 20 games.

"But with goalkeepers you have to make a decision and you have to back your decision, and that is what I have done."

Gallacher is 'more of a coach' now

Gallacher, who played just one game for Partick last season, admits he was surprised Hearts let Alexander go but jumped at the chance to join "a massive club".

Paul Gallacher in action for Partick Thistle against Dundee last November
Gallacher's outing against Dundee in November was his only one for Thistle last season

"Neil is a friend of mine; he left me a picture message wishing me all the best with a wee message at the bottom - which I can't repeat! He is a great lad."

"I see myself more as a coach," he added. "I will keep myself fit and available if required, but I am not silly - I am getting a bit old now. I know I am not going to be the number one choice here.

"Jack has got the nod at this moment and has done fantastically well. He gained invaluable experience with the Scotland squad, working with some top-quality goalkeepers and a great coach in Jim Stewart.

"So he has got a lot of confidence, especially with the manager saying he is first choice - that is going to help you, especially as a young goalkeeper, that is what you want to hear."

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