Eighteen years, more than 600 senior appearances and 41 outings for Scotland have passed since Christophe Berra first played under John McGlynn.
Both men have evolved over the seasons — Berra has a few more bumps and bruises, while McGlynn has a new free-flowing outlook on the game — but his enthusiasm at the prospect of working with his former Hearts youth boss remained undimmed
Indeed, McGlynn’s presence in the dugout was the defining reason behind his decision to join Raith Rovers as he seeks regular football, a fresh start and personal contentment in Kirkcaldy.
“As soon as it became apparent that I wouldn’t be at Hearts next season, Rovers were really keen from the off and made me feel wanted,” Berra told Courier Sport. “That was important. I need to enjoy my football.
“I could have waited longer and assessed what was out there at the end of the season.
“There was another good option and I did have discussions with another club, but I made my decision pretty quickly.
“I worked with the manager [McGlynn] before — he was actually my first proper boss at under-18s level with Hearts. That relationship was always positive and I kept in touch with him over the years.
“Back in the Hearts days, he was more of a 4-4-2 guy, but he has learned and adapted — seeing how guys like Brendan Rodgers work first-hand — and tried to apply that to his own work. That’s what the best coaches do.
“It’s just like players; I’m totally different as a player and a person from when I was 18, although I have some of the same attributes and the same attitude to the game. The manager is different as well, evolving his ideas and the way he wants to play.
“Raith try to play the right way and there is a method and a plan to everything they do. I can see there is something exciting being built here.”
‘We will need to evolve and adapt’
Berra admired Rovers from afar last term, with McGlynn’s men securing a third place finish in the Championship and losing out in the promotion playoff semi-final against Dundee.
Nevertheless, they won a host of admirers for their attacking, inventive style and, while there will be turnover — Dan Armstrong has already departed, while Regan Hendry and Brad Spencer are out of contract — the ambitions will be no less lofty.
“Raith did tremendously well and were one of the best footballing teams in the league,” continued Berra. “I’m looking forward to being part of that and hopefully helping the club improve on what they did last season.
“We will need to evolve and adapt. Players have left the club — which is normal — and it will be down the players remaining, and the new signings, to step up to the plate.
“This is a chance for a new group of players to become the pivotal players, the fans’ favourites and the ones who are making the difference. That’s an exciting for challenge for everyone at the club.”
Berra’s sole focus as pre-season approaches is attaining full fitness and sharpness — he has not played since Hearts’ 3-2 defeat to Queen of the South on March 27 — but in the fullness of time his coaching aspirations will come to the fore.
He is progressing through his badges from the Scottish FA and has already worked with Hearts’ youth sides under the watchful eye of Tynecastle head of academy Roger Arnott.
“I’m doing my A-Licence at the moment but my priority is playing for as long as I can and, barring injury, I see no reason why I can’t go on for a while,” added Berra.
“I’ve done some coaching with the academy at Hearts and that’s something I’d like to look at in the future.
Happy Birthday to @JamTarts captain Christophe Berra!
Here he is, headering everything! 🎂🎁🎈 pic.twitter.com/uBF6hUW50P
— SPFL (@spfl) January 31, 2018
“The manager has his own backroom staff and team in place at Raith, but if there is ever an opportunity to help out then I’m sure he will tell me how I can contribute.
“I’ve worked under quite a few managers over my career and picked up some good habits and things that I would look to take into my own coaching — and others where you think ‘no, I wouldn’t do that’.
“This will be another chance to learn from a really good gaffer.
“As well as contributing on the pitch, I want to learn from a manager with John’s attention to detail, his possession-based team, rotations and movement from middle-to-front.”
‘I need a clean break from Hearts’
Berra will, however, cease coaching at the Hearts academy as he makes a ‘clean break’ from the Jambos.
“I enjoyed my time there,” added Berra. “Roger Arnott was really good with me and it was a valuable opportunity to work with the under-14s and 16s. I’m sure I could go in there and help out any time I wanted.
“However, at this stage of my career, I need to concentrate on my football, get a clean break from Hearts and really hit the ground running at Rovers.
“My sole focus is having a good pre-season, building understanding with the boys and really cementing what we can do as a team.”