HEARTS have re-doubled efforts to bring in another player before Sunday’s League Cup semi-final clash with Inverness Caledonian Thistle after Adam King sealed his move to Swansea City yesterday, with Liverpool’s Jordon Ibe reportedly the player Gary Locke is keen to bring to Tynecastle.
Although described as “undisclosed”, the fee is understood to be in the region of £150,000 for 18-year-old King, who has signed a three-and-a-half year deal with the Welsh club.
Of more immediate value could be the room to manoeuvre it allows the Tynecastle club to bring in a replacement before the Easter Road semi-final.
Hearts’ administrators have prepared an application to the Scottish Professional Football League as they seek to invoke a one-in, one-out ruling specific to clubs serving a signing embargo for entering administration.
As of yesterday evening, this application had not yet been received by the SPFL. If the application is received this morning, then Hearts’ request will be discussed by the SPFL board today, with manager Locke having already earmarked an English-based loan signing who meets the Under-21 age limit required by rules. The player in question is understood to be the Liverpool winger Ibe, who has made one competitive first-team appearance for the Anfield club.
While it is unlikely that the manager will be able to register any new addition in time for tonight’s rearranged Premiership clash with St Mirren, he is desperate to sign a player before this weekend’s cup clash – providing the club are given the green light to do so and can agree a deal before Friday’s transfer deadline.
Locke is also hopeful that he can make an additional signing by removing 39-year-old goalkeeping coach Alan Combe from the playing staff. The signing ban imposed by the Scottish Football Association when Hearts entered administration last year is set to be lifted on Monday. However, the club still need to de-register one player before bringing in another. Rudi Skacel, who is currently a free agent, is expected to be the replacement for what would be his third stint at Tynecastle.
This will also require special permission from the SPPL, although this particular hearing is not likely to take place before the start of next week. “We are looking at every possibility and if [Combe being de-registered] meant I could bring in a player, then great,” said Locke yesterday.
Regarding the question of being able to bring in a replacement for King, he added: “Hopefully we will get an answer soon. The transfer window closes on Friday so we need to get an answer quickly. If we get that answer then hopefully we can get a player in. Obviously I would like to bring in a couple of fresh faces if I can, but it is not straightforward. It is not a case of: if one goes out, I can definitely get one in. It has to go to a panel and see what they say.”
After confirmation of King’s move to Swansea City, Locke was yesterday anticipating there being further interest in Ryan Stevenson, although the Hearts manager is confident that the midfielder is prepared to stay at Tynecastle.
This evening’s rescheduled Premiership clash with St Mirren means the two-game suspension imposed on Stevenson after being red carded for violent conduct against St Johnstone 11 days ago will have been served ahead of Sunday’s League Cup semi-final.
However, doubt has been cast on whether the player will even still be at the club for the meeting with Inverness following his decision to attend the Rangers v Arbroath game at Ibrox on Saturday with his agent. He has also been linked with a move to the Romanian club CFR Cluj as well as St Mirren. Cluj are reported to have been irritated by Stevenson’s decision to back out of contract talks.
“He can take stick from wherever, for all I care,” said Locke. “It’s great for me if that is the case [and contract talks have broken down]. I see Ryan every day. From speaking to him, he has made it blatantly clear that he loves it here and he would like to stay.
“Ryan will obviously attract interest because of his qualities, no doubt about it. But he is not someone I want to lose.”
Locke acknowledged that Stevenson must consider his long-term career ambitions and this is something that it is difficult to do in the current circumstances at Hearts. “The hardest thing is that his contract is up at the end of the season and we are not in a position at the moment to say to players: we will give you a new deal,” stressed Locke.
“We don’t have an owner. But hopefully Ryan will stay until the summer and, if there are new owners in place, we can look to keep him here.”