The youngster needs to play, Rangers add some depth and Hearts could use the extra funds to strengthen in other areas. Craig Fowler argues
Hands up if you foresaw Hearts loaning Billy King to Rangers in this transfer window. Ok, anyone with their hands still up, please put them down. Not only do you look foolish, you’re also a massive liar.
Hearts must have looked at Celtic’s constant meddling in the Ladbrokes Championship title race and wanted in on the action. It certainly seemed a plausible explanation to the Gorgie faithful who wondered why a player who’d started the last two games, and played 20 times this season, was suddenly being shipped out on loan to Rangers.
It’s only once you take a step back, surveying the bigger picture, that it begins to make sense from Hearts perspective.
Jamie Walker is back fit again and he’ll be pushed back into the line-up at the earliest opportunity. Walker was a standout last season and was adjusting to life in the top flight nicely went injury struck.
In the time since Walker’s been out Hearts have switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2. Walker made the 4-2-3-1 work as he’s the best, arguably only, player at the club capable of operating effectively and consistently in the No.10 role. Hearts could go back to that, but the two-man strike partnership is getting the best out of Gavin Reilly and Osman Sow, while Juanma has also looked back to his early season best in recent weeks. So while Walker will likely reclaim his starting place soon enough, it’ll probably be on the wing.
To balance the midfield and ensure the twosome in the centre aren’t over-matched, Robbie Neilson prefers to use either Prince Buaben or Arnaud Djoum, natural centre midfielders, on the flank opposite the natural winger. Latterly it’s been Buaben, who’s taken to his new role pretty well and doesn’t look it moving from it any time soon.
So, all of this, combined with Sam Nicholson returning from a short injury and the emergence of Dario Zanatta, a forward who can also operate out wide, means there’s more than enough competition for only one available starting position. As great as King can be as an impact player, he sometimes struggles when he starts matches and Walker or Nicholson will usually be the preferred choice. Coming off the bench every two weeks is not the way King wants his season to end, so it should be a move that benefits him also.
Hearts are insistent they’ll be taking him back at the end of the season, with good reason. It’s easy to imagine King remaining a Hearts player for years to come. In the meantime, however, they have other options at his position and could do with using the newly available funds (assuming Rangers are paying his wages) to strengthen other areas.
So what do Rangers get out of this? I’ll tell you - guaranteed goals.
No player in the Championship contributed to more goals in the second half of last season than King, whether that was assisting or scoring. He has also been known to play the pass before the assist (the “key” pass, if you will) on numerous other occasions. If you see him about to come off the bench, you know something good is about to happen.
That’s not to say he’s no good from the start. He’s perfectly fine. It’s just for whatever reason he does the most damage as a substitute later in games. Maybe it’s his awkward running style. He has the ability to keep in complete control of the football in a 20 yard dribble despite appearing to be on the verge of losing it the entire time. It must bamboozle the mind of a tiring defender. He also knows how to put the ball in dangerous areas, and strikers tend to be hungrier later in matches when they smell the glory.
The signing adds much needed depth to an Ibrox squad that hasn’t beefed out their numbers in January quite as much as many envisioned. King can operate on either flank but is more comfortable on the right and Rangers will likely rotate him with Kenny Miller, as they did with Nathan Oduwa earlier in the season.
The difference between Oduwa and King is that while the former Tottenham man thrilled the crowd with flicks and tricks, he lacked an end product. Billy King gets you results.
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