For a player whose services were coveted by Celtic last year, it’s fair to say Robbie Muirhead’s stock has fallen a little since then.
His £150,000 move from Kilmarnock to Dundee United on winter transfer deadline day in 2015, shortly after the Scottish champions’ interest in him faltered, proved to be an ill-starred career choice.
The highly-regarded young striker, who has represented Scotland at every youth level from under-15 to under-19, scored just two goals in 16 appearances for a United side which plunged into a spiral of decline from that point and were ultimately relegated.
A loan spell at Partick Thistle last season did little to revitalise Muirhead but, still only 20, time remains for him to fulfil his promise as he opens a fresh chapter at Hearts.
Having been released early from his United contract, he signed a one-year deal with Robbie Neilson’s men yesterday and admits he arrives at Tynecastle with question marks hanging over him.
“The last 18 months haven’t been ideal,” said Muirhead. “I have a lot to prove, not just to myself but to a lot of people in and around the game who have maybe doubted me. The gaffer says I need to work hard, first and foremost. Everything’s down to me.
“I’m delighted to be here. I’m buzzing to sign and have been since it was finalised. I’ve spoken to a few boys who have been up here in the past and they all said exactly the same thing – it’s a massive club. It’s a great club to have on your CV. It’s one of the places you want to play.”
Muirhead is being reunited with his former United team-mate John Souttar and has already been warned to expect a culture shock.
“John messaged me on Sunday and told me when he first came here that the training was a lot harder than he was used to and that he had to sleep for 15 hours a day to begin with,” added Muirhead.
Hearts manager Neilson has admired Muirhead since he first broke into the Kilmarnock side three years ago and is hopeful he can bring the best out of him,
“He’s got good potential,” said Neilson. “People forget he is still young. There is still a lot of development in him.
“I watched him at Kilmarnock and knew he was a very good player. I looked at him and thought we would maybe try to do something then but Dundee United came in and bought him for a big fee.
“He went there and it didn’t quite work out for him. With the way things happened at United, he got out of his contract and it was an opportunity for us to get a good player for free. For me, it was one I was desperate to do.
“We want to get young players in who can develop, whether it is through our own academy or going to other clubs to bring them in. When you get an opportunity to bring in someone like Robbie, then it’s one you take because those are the kind of players we are looking for – young, hungry, Scottish. Ones we think can go on to bigger and better things.
“It’s an opportunity for him. He’s still got a long way to go. He’s got to come here and work hard. There are other good players here who will be ahead of him, so he has to fight to try and get himself in the team. It’s an opportunity I hope he takes.
“He wants to get back playing again. It didn’t quite work out for him at United, it was similar for John Souttar. It can be quite difficult for young players at a club struggling in the league.
“He didn’t play, then he went on loan to Partick Thistle, then back to United. At that point they were in a relegation dogfight. So when you look at the whole picture, you understand he didn’t really have a great crack of the whip up there.
“He had to bide his time and didn’t get opportunities. He will get it here, he will get a chance to develop.
“I want him to come for a year and work hard. It’s not often you don’t play with a team that gets relegated and then you come to a team that finished third in the league. It’s an opportunity for him to come and show us what he can do, then we’ll assess it over the season.”
Neilson is equally enthusiastic about the potential impact of Irish striker Conor Sammon and Moroccan defender Faycal Rherras, who should complete their free transfer moves to Hearts over the next 48 hours.
“Conor and Rherras are two guys who will add value to the squad,” said Neilson. “Conor played in Scotland before for Kilmarnock and did really well.
“He went down to England and did well initially, got a big money move to Derby. But they changed managers a lot and he found it difficult.
“He is at an age now where he wants to get more settled and come back to Scotland. His wife is from up here. It is a good addition and gives us something different up front.
“Rherras is one I’d looked at for a while. We looked in January but knew he would be a free in the summer, so waited to get him now.
“He is a Moroccan under-23 international and played almost every game in Belgium for Sint-Truiden last season.”