Dundee manager Paul Hartley has conceded he was powerless to prevent striker Kane Hemmings leaving for Oxford United and has warned the same thing could happen with Greg Stewart.
Hartley was yesterday still coming to terms with Hemmings’ surprise departure for Oxford after a buy-out clause in his contract was activated by the English League One outfit to trigger his £250,000 exit from Dens Park.
Hartley pleaded with Hemmings, who bagged 25 goals for the Dark Blues last season, to remain on Tayside but it was to no avail as the 24-year-old Englishman had already opted for a return south of the Border having only signed from Barnsley on a three-year deal 12 months ago.
As they gear up for the new Premiership season which kicks off away to Ross County next weekend, Hartley now concedes they face the same potential scenario with fans’ favourite Stewart, who is understood to be attracting increasing attention from English Championship side Birmingham City. Hartley said: “I didn’t want Kano to go but there was nothing we could do.
“I’m not privy to players’ contracts because I don’t deal with them but there was a clause in the contract which I have only just found out about.
“Oxford met the clause and there’s nothing we could do. That’s the harsh reality of it, you bring players in and there are certain conditions in the contract. We wouldn’t have got him if we didn’t have that in his deal.
“I spoke to him and he said he wanted to go back down the road, the deal was good for him and there was nothing we could do.
“He didn’t cost us anything last year and we’ve had to sell him. I didn’t want to sell him and I can understand the frustration of the supporters.
“I think he’d already made his mind up, I spoke to him on Tuesday and he told me he wanted to try England again.
“He’d had an experience which didn’t work out but this time it was too good a deal for him to turn down.
“Kane was good for us and we were good for him. I wish him all the best. I really hope he does well because he was terrific for us last season.”
Hartley described Stewart, pictured below, as “irreplaceable” recently and knows that they could end up fighting another losing battle to hold on to him as he begins the immediate search to try to find a suitable replacement for Hemmings.
Hartley added: “I just have to find someone who can score me 25 goals a season now.
“The good thing is that it has happened now rather than at the end of August because it gives me a bit of time to get someone in. We will try to strengthen the squad, I still feel we’re two or three players short of where we want to be.
“The harsh reality of Scottish football is that all the top teams have to sell their top players. We don’t want to sell Greg but sometimes there’s not a lot you can do. The players have ambition too and you have to think about them, that’s the way it is.
“We want to keep Greg but he has ambition also. There have been no bids at this stage. He has started the season with four goals in two matches so will it hot up? It might.
“He has been terrific for us over the last two years but my job is to find another Greg Stewart or Kane Hemmings.
“We’ll just have to see where we are at the end of the window.
“If nobody wanted our players then we wouldn’t be doing it right, but people do and that shows we are doing something right. We have picked out some good players, made them better.
“Players come and go, that’s common knowledge, and I know the financial constraints at a football club.
“You have to deal with it, you don’t want to lose your best players but that’s life.”
Meanwhile, Dundee chief executive John Nelms insisted any fans’ anger over not knowing Hemmings had a clause in his contract should be directed solely at him.
Nelms said: “Kane has personal reasons about why he wants to be down there.
“It may have been financial, may have been personal – may have been all kinds of things.
“Oxford United met the requirements that were within his clause and they were a pleasure to work with.
“If they [fans] are upset about information not coming out about contracts then direct it to me. If they are saying, ‘We’re upset because we don’t know what’s going on,’ then again that should be directed at me, not Paul or the team.”