Don Cowie has played alongside established Premier League names such as Danny Drinkwater, Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley, Troy Deeney and Craig Bellamy. When he names Jamie Walker as one of the most talented team-mates he has encountered, it is quite a statement.
Walker sought advice from his Hearts colleague Cowie before joining Wigan Athletic in a £300,000 transfer. The 34-year-old has no doubt about the winger’s ability to succeed south of the Border. A former Wigan and Scotland player himself, Cowie regards Walker as a future internationalist and says he is one of the most naturally talented footballers he has worked with.
“There is no doubting Jamie’s ability. He is one of the most gifted players I’ve played with in my career. He has everything,” said Cowie.
“You see him in training and, in terms of a midfield player, I’ve never really seen someone finish the way he does. All types of goals, too. In my time at this club I’ve just applauded the goals he’s scored. You think, ‘that’s special’, but it’s up to him now to do it on a regular basis.
“It’s about trying to do that for a season and if he can do that, then the accolades come, Scotland call-ups, etc.
“He’s different because he is so gifted. He’s not the quickest but he’s elusive and can go past players. He’s strong and doesn’t shirk away from a tackle. Maybe he needs to believe in himself a bit more.
“Maybe at Hearts he was in a comfort zone and knew if he was fit he would play. Now, all of a sudden, he’s got to become a man and really step up to the plate. If he does, the country has a great player.”
Despite the ten-year age gap, Cowie and Walker became close friends at Tynecastle. The latter’s departure for League One came after advice from an elder statesman who has experienced England’s Premier League and knows what is required to get there.
“Jamie is someone I’ve grown close to since I’ve been here,” Cowie added. “He’s a young player and he maybe looked at me and thought that I’d been in England and it was something he wanted to achieve.
“We got to know each other really well. He was speaking to me about it and I think it’s a good match for him. He needs to get himself fit now, it gives him a couple of weeks to do that and hopefully he’ll make a statement when he’s there.
“I know Wigan are in League One but it’s not long ago they were in the Premier League. It’s more a rugby town, they’re more focused on that, but they’ve got owners who want the club to do well. They might not have the biggest squad but it’s a chance to stamp his authority and get in the team.”
Hearts fans are certainly happier seeing one of their most revered idols head to England rather than along the M8 to Glasgow. Rangers’ pursuit of Walker last summer was well documented and impacted on both the player’s morale and performance.
“He found it hard to deal with the transfer saga, especially in the summer and it’s maybe coincided with him having a few niggling injuries this year as well,” explained Cowie.
“I spoke to him. There was a lot made of it, the fact he had been at Hearts his whole career and he hadn’t been in that situation before. He is a Hearts boy and his family support Hearts so it’s tough.
“Social media and things like that are powerful. People get to you and say things.
“Jamie maybe struggled a bit dealing with it and I tried to help him. It looked like he would move in the summer but it didn’t materialise.
“Once Craig [Levein] took over, I thought he handled the situation really well and started to play well again.
“I think this move is best for all parties. It’s now a chance for him to progress his career and get away from a club he’s been at for a long time and achieved a lot. He’s a special player and we wish him well. Hopefully he can fulfil the potential he has and break into that Scotland squad.”