Hearts have signed up Jamie Walker on an extended contract, which ties the winger to the Tynecastle club until the summer of 2018.
The 22-year-old is the latest member of head coach Robbie Neilson’s squad to pledge his future to the Gorgie outfit, joining defender Igor Rossi and midfielder Arnaud Djoum, who recently signed on until May 2017.
To get him tied up gives us security but it gives Jamie security as well, to go and progress and concentrate on his footballROBBIE NEILSON
Aware that several of the players who helped the team canter to the Championship title last season and have built on that with an impressive start to their Premiership campaign have attracted attention from other clubs, Neilson has been keen to offer longer deals to many key contributors.
Walker, who was farmed out to Raith Rovers for a loan spell in 2011-12 after graduating from the club’s youth ranks, made his first-team debut as a substitute in a 2–2 draw with Inverness at Tynecastle in August 2012 and was voted the club’s Young Player of the Year at the end of that season.
He was also shortlisted by his peers for the Championship Player of the Year award and PFA Scotland’s Young Player of the Year last term.
That vote of confidence came on the back of a season in which he had helped his side gain promotion and when he had been linked with clubs in England, as well as Spanish side Real Betis.
Although that speculation eventually fell flat, the player said the rumours had helped inspire last season’s form and while he was flattered by the interest and had ambitions to play at the highest level, he insisted that he was happy to continue his football development at the capital club and he placed pressure on himself to reproduce his second-tier form in the top flight and has scored twice this season already. He is considered a major asset by his manager, which is reflected in the fact that he has been offered such a lengthy contract extension.
Speaking after the deal had been struck, Neilson told Hearts News that he was pleased with the outcome.
“He’s a Hearts Football Academy graduate, and we’ve got a few more guys too who we’d like to get signed up as we think that they deserve it and they’ve done well this season,” said Neilson.
“It works well for both parties. Jamie’s a big prospect at the club, played a lot of games and there’s been interest in him over the years.
“To get him tied up gives us security but it gives Jamie security as well, to go and progress and concentrate on his football.”
A local lad, he has been connected to his boyhood heroes since he was ten years old, and has made 105 appearances for the club, scoring 18 goals, but injury has kept him out the team in recent weeks.
Plagued by a persistent knee complaint since facing Dundee at Dens Park in August, he has been sidelined completely since the team’s League Cup exit at the hands of Celtic in October. But the former Scotland under-21 internationalist is back in training and targeting a return to the team before Christmas.
It will be a return welcomed by his manager. “This season has been a bit stop-start for Jamie,” said Neilson. “Last season, he played very well for us and won us a lot of games. He’s a big part of the team and was at the start of the season.
“He’s had a couple of little niggling injuries recently, which have hindered him, but we expect him to make a full recovery and add value to the team.”
In talks with several other first-team regulars, including Osman Sow and Miguel Pallardo, the Hearts head coach is hoping the club can wrap up more contract negotiations ahead of the January transfer window.