Dundee United are reportedly close to agreeing a deal with Hearts to sign winger Billy King. Craig Fowler looks at how King may fit in at Tannadice
It has to be said, this signing would be a bit of a gamble. Dundee United are set to rebuild this summer with a number of first-team players out of contract and constant pressure on manager Ray McKinnon to trim the budget against mounting financial issues. Signing a winger who’s struggled throughout this season and has never been a nailed-on starter at any point in his career is hardly the first move fans would want to see the club make.
In the likes of Scott Fraser and Blair Spittal, Dundee United already have attacking midfield talents who have the quality but can be a little flaky in their performances. Bringing in a similarly capricious playmaker may not help the squad reach a level of consistency required to win the Ladbrokes Championship next season if, as expected, they fail to successful negotiate their way through the playoffs this term.
There’s also the worry about King’s career trending in the wrong direction. He’s gone from a regular in the Hearts squad, to a loan spell at Rangers, to this past season with Inverness CT. Signed to provide ICT with a bit of spark from the wings, he’s not impressed since the opening couple of months of the season. It’s been a really disappointing move for all involved. Hearts, who initially extended his contract by six months when the deal was struck, decided against taking another look at the player in the summer. They’d seen enough.
Then again, in King’s defence, for a 22-year-old player looking to make his mark on a team, there could scarcely have been a worse move than his switch to the Highlands.
Those familiar with the player will testify that he’s a highly talented individual who just needs to believe in himself a little more. He doesn’t share the cockiness or arrogance you’d usually associate with highlight-reel wingers. If his confidence is high, he performs well. If he doesn’t then he becomes ineffective.
Inverness, on paper, looked a decent move. They’d established themselves as a top flight club and had a strong core with Greg Tansey, Ross Draper, Gary Warren and Josh Meekings all being stalwarts of the side over the past few years. However, the decision to hire Richie Foran as an inexperienced rookie manager has backfired spectacularly. They haven’t been a decent, or even coherent, side since the autumn and are set to crash out of the division. This was the worst kind of environment for King to try and sharpen his tools. A team heading out of the division under the guidance of a manager who was unable to change the course of direction.
King has been through such a situation before and come out of the other side. In 2013/14, as Hearts dropped through the relegation trapdoor thanks to a 15-point deduction for going into administration, King was a peripheral figure in the squad, behind even David Smith in the pecking order. He did, though, score in the “relegation party” derby win over Hibs, sealing the game to ensure Hearts would not be sent down on their own ground by their greatest rivals. From there he kicked on, ending the season brightly and using it to command a squad rotation role as Hearts began their season in the Championship.
This is where this could, and perhaps should, be a good signing for Dundee United. King has experience of playing in the second tier, and he has experience of tormenting second tier defenders. He’s got a unique dribbling style which helps him beat opponents, while he’s capable of whipping in a good cross and getting into the penalty area to score himself. In short, he makes things happen at the Championship level. In the second half of Hearts’ title-winning season, King tallied more goals and assists combined than any other player in the league. For him, going back to that level could be the best move for him at this point in his career.