Don Cowie says he can understand why Hearts are sticking to their £1 million asking price for Jamie Walker, claiming that a repeat of last season’s early form could catapult the academy graduate into the Scotland squad.
The Tynecastle winger, pictured, is out of contract at the end of next season and has made it clear than he will not be signing the deal extension tabled by the Gorgie club. That has prompted successive bids from Premiership rivals Rangers but they have fallen short of the figure Hearts have in mind and have therefore been rejected.
“Up until about three-quarters of the season last year, there weren’t many better in this country than him in the area he was playing, give or take your Celtic players, in terms of end product and goals,” said the veteran Hearts midfielder. “He was fantastic and it is only right that the club want what a player like that is worth. They have made a firm stance.”
Following the departure of Callum Paterson and Sam Nicholson, Cowie conceded it would be disappointing to lose Walker but said that, for now, it remains a redundant concern.
“Jamie’s our player right now and I’m looking forward to training with him next week. The club has taken a stance with the value that they see him at. Until that’s met, it’s not an issue really. He had a fantastic three-quarters of a season last year and what’s important for him is that he does it throughout a season. If he does that, that’s when you can start talking about Scottish recognition because he has the ability to do that.”
News that the 23-year-old has turned down a deal that would have made him the club’s highest earner was followed by the revelation that the club would listen to offers but they have also reiterated that they are in no rush to sell – and certainly not to a domestic rival at a cut-price rate.
This summer has seen Sam Nicholson and Callum Paterson exercise their right to leave after seeing out their contracts and while Cowie says Walker has every right to seek a new challenge, he believes there is no rush for him to follow the others out the door.
“I think Hearts are quite unique in the sense that you get your chance early,” Cowie said. “It’s not like they are in their early 20s but have not played much football. Callum must have about 150 games and is ready to move on, maybe Sam is the same.
“They are a bit beyond their years in terms of what they have achieved. If they feel it’s time to make that step, then good luck to them.
“But it definitely wouldn’t hold [Walker] back to stay here for another year or two. I didn’t go to England until I was 26.”
Cowie is looking ahead to the new term reinvigorated and bolstered by the arrival of Christophe Berra from Ipswich Town, who he sees as another leader. That was something that was in short supply in the Hearts ranks last season, with some much of the responsibility falling on Cowie’s shoulders.
“Getting Christophe in early is a big statement. We all saw him last week against England and how well he played. But at the same time we can’t focus on him too much and put too much pressure on the fact he has come back to the club. I’m looking forward to playing with him again.”
The club have also added Cole Stockton and Rafal Grzelak to the squad but Berra is the one Cowie describes as a “marquee signing” and he was unsurprised to see him installed as club captain.
It means that Cowie will have to relinquish the armband he wore towards the end of the campaign but he has no complaints.
“Never at any stage was I appointed captain – I was captain when Alim [Ozturk] wasn’t playing and I was captain when Perry [Kitchen] wasn’t playing. But it was never a role that was set in stone.
“So it makes sense with Christophe coming in, he is still playing international football. All round it’s a perfect fit and I am happy with the role I have within the club and I am looking forward to the season ahead.
“There weren’t enough leaders [last season] and when you’re having bad results and going through a bad run, that’s when you need to really stand up. A few people last season maybe struggled with that. It’s only natural you go into your shell a wee bit.
The more people we can get who are used to having difficult experiences in their career, it can only help us. And Christophe definitely ticks that box.”