EYEBROWS were raised in January when Real Betis were credited with an interest in Hearts winger Jamie Walker. Perhaps understandably, such is the infrequency with which Scottish footballers leave these shores for the Spanish game.
With a glowing reference from Hearts’ midfielder Miguel Pallardo in his back pocket, however, the notion of the Edinburgh-born midfielder one day plying his trade in the Bernabeu and Nou Camp does not seem quite so outlandish.
Walker, 21, has arguably been Hearts’ stand-out performer in recent weeks, scoring five times in his last seven appearances and showing a distinct improvement in his physique and work ethic. That prompted praise from head coach Robbie Neilson, who believes the arrival of the player’s first child has focused Walker’s mind.
And Neilson revealed that Pallardo, who boasts 179 appearances in Spain’s top two divisions, firmly believes Walker can compete at the very highest level. “I spoke to him [Walker] in pre-season about where I believe he can get to in football and what he needs to do to get there,” explained Neilson. “He can play out wide or as a No 10 and is probably technically the best player we have. I think he has really pushed on this season. He has a kid now and it has given him a focus to really push himself as far as he can go.
“I know that [assistant head coach] Stevie [Crawford] was speaking to Miguel Pallardo about Jamie and he was raving about him. Miguel has played in Spain for 10 years – and he believes Jamie is one of the best he has seen. I think if he can continue to work hard and get his fitness levels as high as they can go, then I see him having a massive future in the game.”
Before considering the bright lights of La Liga or English football, Walker’s more immediate challenge will be to continue his fine form against Cowdenbeath this afternoon.
He [Miguel Pallardo] believes Jamie is one of the best he has seen.Robbie Neilson
It is a fixture which Hearts are expected to win as they seek to continue their procession back to the Scottish Premiership.