His departure currently remains no more than conjecture, but Esmael Goncalves is in no doubt that Jamie Walker would be “irreplaceable” should he take his leave of Hearts.
Rangers have, so far unsuccessfully, tried to tease Walker away from Tynecastle, but appear persistent in their pursuit, whilst head coach Ian Cathro has raised the possibility of other clubs joining the chase for a player he retains hope could agree fresh and improved terms to remain at Hearts.
The 24-year-old will certainly begin the season in the maroon he has worn since the age of ten, with the Gorgie outfit opening their Betfred Cup campaign away to Elgin City this evening.
Whether he remains in place beyond the closing of the transfer window next month remains to be seen. If he departs before then, Goncalves fears there would be no chance of the Gorgie club finding someone to fill his talented boots and is optimistic of a resolution that will see Walker stick around for a bit longer.
“I hope Jamie stays because he is a big player for us and he can help us a lot,” said the Portuguese marksman. “It is important he stays because I don’t think we will find another player like him if he leaves.
“If he stays, I think we can do good things. If he has to leave, we will do the job but, of course, it will take a lot of money to bring in a replacement for Jamie.
“We have been talking about this and hearing things. But if he leaves at the end of next month it will be impossible to find another player like him or near him.
“So, it would be good if the club fixes this situation with Jamie, so we can go forward.
“It would be a big boost for the club and the fans if he stayed. The fans love him, he has been here since he was young. He’s at home and everyone loves him here, and he’s a big player for us.”
Walker proved his influence at Hearts with the equaliser in Friday’s 2-1 friendly defeat by Newcastle United, and is likely to be an important figure when the competitive action starts tonight. The Gorgie outfit have been tasked with a lengthy journey to begin their new campaign, but Goncalves knows from experience it is one that could eventually bring thrilling rewards.
The 26-year-old netted against Hearts to help St Mirren lift the League Cup in 2013 with a 3-2 win in the final. He confesses the victory, the Buddies’ first in a major competition since their Scottish Cup triumph of 1987, sparked wild celebrations he would dearly love to repeat in maroon.
“I have great memories from this competition and I’ll try to repeat that here,” he added. “I would love to do it again with Hearts. I think we partied all week after winning the cup with St Mirren. Me and Craig Samson stayed out for a long time, which was nice! I don’t think we would party all the week if we won with Hearts, but we would enjoy it.”
Especially given the new group format in the tournament, there remains a lot of work to do should Goncalves and his team-mates go on to end Hearts’ 55-year wait for success in the League Cup.
In a mini-league that also includes Dunfermline, Peterhead and East Fife, the Tynecastle outfit will be favourites to progress, but the former Nice and Rio Ave attacker is wary of falling foul of a false start tonight against opponents smarting from a 6-0 hammering by Dunfermline on Saturday.
“For me, these are the most dangerous games, because everyone is expecting you to win and score a lot of goals,” he explained. “Then, once you are there, there might not be many people watching, the atmosphere is different, and the concentration maybe comes down a little bit. Then, you can find yourself losing 1-0 at half-time. This cannot happen. We must go there thinking it is a competition, not who we are playing against.”