The break-up of Hearts’ 2012 Scottish Cup winning side continued yesterday as winger Andrew Driver prepared to move to Major League Soccer side Houston Dynamo.
He is the latest member of the team which defeated Hibernian 5-1 at Hampden Park to depart for pastures new as money-saving efforts at Tynecastle continue. Once valued at £4 million by the club, Driver was expected to solve some of Hearts’ financial worries while building a reputation as a fleet-footed wide player with impressive dribbling ability.
In 2010 speculation saw him linked with big money moves to the English Premier League as well as to FC Twente in the Netherlands but injuries disrupted his progress and Driver will now continue his career in the United States, under the tutelage of Dynamo’s Scottish-born manager Dominic Kinnear.
He is the sixth of those who started the Scottish Cup victory in May to have left the club, and he has sacrificed the opportunity to claim another winner’s medal next month against St Mirren in the final of the Scottish Communities Cup. One of the highest earners on the Hearts wage bill, Driver’s departure represents a further easing of financial pressure.
Driver has signed a central contract with MLS but will initially be moving to the United States on loan. This arrangement will continue until the end of his contract with Hearts in June. His contract with MLS will then continue until December, after which there is the option of a three-year extension. Unlike Kenny Miller at Vancouver Whitecaps, Driver has not been assigned as a “designated player”, the status afforded to marquee signings and which allows them to earn a salary above the league’s salary cap. If selected, he will make his competitive debut against DC United in the Texas club’s league opener on 3 March, after a week’s training. Among his new team-mates is Scottish midfielder Adam Moffat, who once played for Elgin City.
The deal was concluded last night, and Driver will be unveiled at the BBVA Compass stadium later this week. However, before a new life for the 25 year-old can begin, he must first organise a US visa. Negotiations between Driver and Hearts had continued throughout the day yesterday. “There is a possibility Andrew could be leaving the club,” said first-team coach Gary Locke, speaking to Hearts TV.
“We are still waiting to find out what the situation is. He has been a fantastic lad to work with but we are not 100 per cent sure what is happening at the moment.”
However, the Hearts official website was up-dated last night to include some details of his departure. “The club wishes Andrew all the best as he continues his career with this fantastic opportunity to play in America,” concluded a statement.
“It is a wrench for him,” the player’s father, David, told The Scotsman last night. “But it is a fantastic opportunity for Andrew to re-ignite his career in a league that is going places.”
Driver has been at Hearts from the age of 14 and has made more than 150 appearances since coming through the youth ranks. Born in Oldham, Driver moved to Scotland with his parents at the age of 10. Because of this, and despite having played for the England Under-21 side, he is still eligible to appear for Scotland, having been schooled in the country for five years.
The winger made his Hearts breakthrough in the 2006-07 season, just after the club’s Scottish Cup success against Gretna. He scored a goal on his debut against Inverness Caledonian Thistle and grew to become one of Scottish football’s most exciting prospects.
However, a succession of thigh and knee injuries saw his career stall and, when then manager Paulo Sergio threatened to place him in first-team exile in December 2011, the player handed in a transfer request..
However, he succeeded in impressing Sergio with his application and returned to the first-team in time for last May’s 5-1 cup win, in which he posted a performance that recalled his finest days in a maroon jersey. He has made 28 appearances this season, scoring twice. His last game for the Tynecastle club came against Dundee in a 1-0 win at Tynecastle last month.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
With Andy Driver’s exit confirmed last night, six of the starting XI from Hearts’ Scottish Cup-winning side in May have now left the club, while more could leave in the summer...
Jamie MacDonald: still at the club and has posted another solid campaign as No 1.
Ryan McGowan: Signed a lucrative two-year deal with Chinese club Shandong Luneng Taishan in January.
Andy Webster: Has made 28 first-team appearances this season and has also returned to the Scotland fold.
Marius Zaliukas: The skipper recently damaged ankle ligaments and looks to have played his last game for the club after seven years’ service.
Danny Grainger: Another whose time at the club has ended on a sad note, with a knee ligament injury sustained in November keeping him out until the end of the season, when his contract ends.
Suso Santana: Left in the summer and rejoined former club CD Tenerife, who play in Spanish Segunda B.
Andrew Driver: Set to continue his career in Major League Soccer.
Darren Barr: Still at Hearts and a regular this season, although contract expires in the summer.
Ian Black: Man of the match in the cup final but already knew he was not being offered a new contract. Signed for Rangers and made a high-profile Scotland debut as a Third Division player in August.
Rudi Skacel: Bade another farewell to Hearts fans with a brace in the cup final and, although he has since been back training with the club, signed a short-term contract with Dundee United in October. Now that has expired he is a free agent again.
Stephen Elliott: Left in the summer after the expiry of his contract and joined League One side Coventry City, for whom he has scored four times this season.