His contract expires next Monday, May 31, at which point he becomes a free agent. The Edinburgh club will be due compensation in excess of £300,000 if he departs, but keeping him has always been the preferred option.
Irving must now make the biggest decision of his burgeoning career to date. As the most successful Riccarton youth academy graduate of the last five years, his talented left foot and cultured midfield play are useful components of the Hearts first-team squad. As is his occasional penchant for an absolute blooter from 30 yards into the opposition net.
However, he is unsatisfied with the latest new contract proposed. He can legally still accept Hearts’ offer up to two weeks after his current deal expires, but thereafter he is officially unattached. Everything points to a parting of ways between player and club at the moment.
Aged 21, Irving wants to play regularly next season with a contract befitting an established first-team regular. He made 29 appearances and scored three goals across all competitions last term. Hearts won the Scottish Championship title with time to spare and Irving managed six league assists – joint-third in the division – and was named in the Championship Team of the Year.
He is keen to ensure his game develops rather than finding himself on the substitues’ bench half the time. Hearts, of course, won’t offer any player a guaranteed place in the starting line-up. That must be earned and then retained with consistent performances in both training and matches.
No contract accepted
Irving is determined to improve all aspects of his game as part of a long-term career plan to reach a high level of his chosen sport. He is reluctant to leave Tynecastle Park but it is telling that Hearts have offered him at least two contracts in recent months, none of which were accepted.
They want Irving to stay and are adamant that the terms proposed are lucrative for a young player who broke into the Scotland Under-21 squad last season. Potential suitors are monitoring developments, although there has been no official contact from any interested party so far.
The latest update on the situation was delivered three weeks ago by manager Robbie Neilson. “We've not heard anything at all. We've had some back and forth and offered a contract but nothing from any clubs anywhere. It's up to the player and the agent to decide on that,” he explained.
“We've offered what we think is a very good contract and we've got a plan for Andy but we need to hear back and that's the difficulty of it. We need to plan for next season but we don't really know where we're going to be for next season on that one.”
The compensation figure is something of a safety net for Hearts. It is a substantial sum for a 21-year-old coming out of Scotland’s second division. A £300,000-plus payment will undoubtedly put some clubs off as they manage the financial impact of the Covid 19 pandemic.
Development fees are often negotiated down by the signing club and, should Irving indeed move on from Hearts, that would seem a likely scenario. It is all unchartered territory for the player.
A local lad and Hearts fan who hails from a family of Jambos, he began supporting the club aged four and was attending matches with his father – also Andy – before he even started at Newcraighall Primary School.
He first began playing for Hearts at the age of eight and progressed through the Riccarton youth academy whilst a pupil at Portobello High School. Between loan periods at Berwick Rangers and Falkirk, a first-team debut for his parent club came at Hamilton in January 2018.
He enjoyed an immediate impact with a piercing through ball for David Milinkovic to score in a 3-0 win. Since then, the midfielder’s popularity has grown gradually. The ‘Portobello Pirlo’ nickname underlines how highly fans regard him.
Change of agent
So what are the options if he doesn’t sign? Irving changed agents in 2019 and is now represented by a German-based company which was involved in Marcus Godinho’s transfer from Hearts to FC Zwickau in July 2019. The Canadian international full-back is still with the German third division side.
Irving’s representatives declined to comment on his future when contacted by the Evening News. The player himself has been kept away from media interviews since January as Hearts officials provided protection whilst his future remained unresolved.
He can now let his contract finish and take a chance on finding a better deal elsewhere in Britain or Europe. That could be a risky strategy for a young man who hasn’t played top-flight football for 14 months due to the Covid shutdown and Hearts’ enforced relegation.
If Irving does intend leaving Edinburgh, it would be wise to have something in the pipeline. What that might be is anyone’s guess. The obvious German connection indicates a network of contacts there which could be utilised.
There is a strong argument that he would be best served staying at Hearts. He is still gaining experience and honing his game with his peak most likely several years away. There is plenty time to look beyond the borders of Gorgie. It would also be easier attracting a new club once he is a recognised Premiership midfielder.
Perhaps the most sensible option would be to stay put with an alternative plan to move in January should he feel discontented. Were he to sign a new contract and then find game time restricted next season, a loan or permanent transfer should not be too difficult to facilitate.
It is doubtful anyone at Riccarton would attempt to stand in his way if a move was requested on the basis that he was not starting games regularly.
Clearly, there are many ifs and buts to this scenario. It is a delicate situation whichever way Irving decides to go.