What will Hearts do in the January transfer window?
Currently frontrunners for third place, Hearts are enjoying a strong first season back in the Premiership. Jamie McIntosh examines the potential incomings and outgoings in the January window as Robbie Neilson’s side look nail down “best of the rest.”
In years gone by, the month of January signalled that it was time for Hearts to panic buy players to replace the summer signings that had turned out to be duds… Not now though.
Hearts’ recruitment strategy has been transformed, and is spearheaded by the club’s now-not-so-new Sporting Director, Joe Savage.
After leaving his role as Head of Player Recruitment at Preston North End, Savage arrived in Gorgie on the 4thJanuary of last year, and what a difference he has made in his first year at Tynecastle.
The magnitude of the transformation means that this January window is about adding some further quality and depth in key areas, as opposed to full squad overhauls like in previous years.
After making it through the first few paragraphs without mentioning him, now is probably a good time to discuss the proverbial elephant in the room, and he goes by the name of John.
It’s now not a case of ‘If’ but a matter of when John Souttar leaves Hearts, and where he will be plying his trade next.
The 25-year-old has enjoyed a brilliant start to the season, and after working his way back into Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad, he marked his first cap in three years with a vital goal against Denmark at Hampden.
The reaction to his goal just highlighted how popular a figure Souttar is across the country. In truth, it was hard not to get carried away seeing him wheel away in celebration, as fans remembered the three serious achilles injuries he has somehow managed to bounce back from.
Souttar is now arguably in the form of his life, and while many Hearts fans knew that if he hadn’t had the misfortune of those injuries he’d have departed Tynecastle a long time ago, now it appears the time has finally arrived.
Hearts have tried and failed to negotiate a new deal with the defender, who is out of contract in summer, and with a handful of English clubs and Rangers interested in acquiring his services, it’s now a question of when and where to Souttar departs.
Manager Robbie Neilson has previously said that there wouldn’t be too many departures in this window, but a player Hearts are looking to offload is striker Armand Gnanduillet.
To put it simply, it just hasn’t worked out, for whatever reason. I find it hard to believe that it’s almost a year since I watched Gnanduillet score twice off the bench in his Hearts debut at Stark’s Park, leaving the stadium that night thinking: ‘Wow, Hearts have found a gem here.’
For any striker, it’s always going to be difficult playing second fiddle to Hearts’ top goalscorer Liam Boyce. If truth be told though, whenever Gnanduillet has been given opportunities this season, whether it be from the start or off the bench, he hasn’t looked anywhere near good enough.
The Frenchman’s contract expires in the summer, but Hearts are looking to offload in January to free up wages for another forward to arrive at Tynecastle. Recent rumours of Tranmere Rovers’ interest in Gnaduillet may well suit everyone nicely.
Tying down assets
A number of Hearts players are out of contract in the summer, and I’d imagine as far as most Hearts fans are concerned, tying down (maybe literally) club captain Craig Gordon to a new contract until 2024 is streets ahead of any new signing.
Gordon has been in inspired form since returning for a second stint at Tynecastle, and after being given the armband, his family settling in Edinburgh and perhaps even thinking about a coaching career further down the line, a new Hearts deal made perfect sense for both parties.
Stephen Kingsley, Craig Halkett, Michael Smith and Peter Haring are probably next in the pecking order of players fans would like to see stay at Tynecastle, and you’d imagine Neilson and Savage share that opinion.
Next, you come to the divisive pairing of Andy Halliday and Jamie Walker. Halliday has proved his versatility, featuring on the left of defence and in midfield. As for Walker, his winner against Dundee in December showed he can still be of use, however reports are suggesting that he is departing for Bradford City in the hope of getting more game time.
Mihai Popescu and Jordan Roberts are both out on loan at the moment, and with their contracts up in summer, they won’t be at Tynecastle next season, and can be filed alongside Gnanduillet.
Jamie Brandon has been sent out on loan to Greenock Morton for some much-needed game time after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Euan Henderson returns to Tynecastle following a successful stint on loan at Alloa, and could perhaps be a useful option for the remainder of the season. However, a contract extension and another loan move is probably the preferred option.
Connor Smith, Scott McGill, Aidan Denholm and Chris Hamilton are all in the final months of their contracts, and are all getting game time on loan at lower league sides. The latter has been receiving significant praise from Arbroath boss Dick Campbell for his performances.
A top quality striker was what Neilson said was at the top of his Christmas wish list when asked last month about the January window, but as everybody knows, it’s not the easiest time of year to acquire the services of high-level operators.
Hearts have already signed Nathaniel Atkinson on a three-and-a-half-year deal from Melbourne City. The attacking full back arrived in Edinburgh on Monday and will begin training with his new teammates this week.
With Souttar on the move, a replacement will certainly be required. One name that has been mentioned is that of former Kilmarnock defender Stuart Findlay.
Hearts were previously linked with Findlay before his move to Philadelphia Union in February of last year, but he has found minutes hard to come by in the States, and is reportedly keen on a return to Scotland.
The Jambos certainly don’t need to add much to their talented squad this January, but with rivals Hibernian and Aberdeen already making moves, Hearts will know they’ll need to strengthen to maintain their grasp on third place.