Jamie Walker is no longer a Hearts player. Today saw the confirmation of the midfielder’s £300,000 move to Wigan Athletic, ending a 14-year marriage between the academy graduate and the Gorgie Road club.
From a business perspective, you can’t fault the move. He could have walked away for nothing in the summer, with the club not even entitled to compensation due to Walker’s age. A six-figure sum for such an asset, especially one who’s been far from his best over the past 11 months, is more than fair. Sure, they could have sold him in the summer to Rangers for a fee reported to be double this amount, but the additional £300,000 would not have been worth the loss of goodwill from the Tynecastle support, who were already at their wits end in August after the embarrassing end of the Ian Cathro era.
There are obvious parallels to be drawn between this deal and one the club received in the January window two years ago. On that occasion it was Osman Sow exiting shortly before his contract was due to expire, as Chinese side Henan Jianye lavishly spent £1million on the Swedish striker.
Hearts supporters will be hoping that’s where the similarities end. Red-tape delays meant Sow’s transfer didn’t go through until a few weeks later, but the deal was all but completed on 1 February. Six days later, in their very next match, Hearts hosted Hibs in the Scottish Cup. You all know what happened next.
It would be too simplistic to insist things would have been different had Sow remained in the line-up instead of his replacement, Abiola Dauda. After all, Hibs were the better team across the park that day. It was a surprise Hearts were 2-0 up in the first place. With Sow’s involvement changing the entire course of the match, maybe the visitors would have won without the aid of the 1-0 replay victory at Easter Road. Who knows? However, what we cannot doubt is that Hearts would have stood a better chance of winning that game had Sow been available.
Will the same be true of Walker? Just like two years ago, Hearts will not play a game between this sale and the visit of Hibs in the Scottish Cup. Unless reinforcements are sought over the next 13 days, or Hibs relent and flog talisman John McGinn to the highest bidder, Craig Levein’s squad are now in a weaker position. Although, there is an alternative argument to be made; one which differentiates the Sow deal from the latest one.
One of the many astounding aspects surrounding the 4-0 victory over Celtic last month was the number of players missing for the hosts that day. No John Souttar, Aaron Hughes, Arnaud Djoum or Walker, while Esmael Goncalves sat on the bench. The latter three, along with Kyle Lafferty and mercurial winger David Milinkovic, are all talented players, but they struggled to bind together and create a cohesive attacking unit. Without three of them, including Walker, Levein was able to fashion a gameplan based on high-pressing and relentless running. It was designed to create a team greater than the sum of its parts, rather than one relying on the talents of inconsistent individuals. With Walker back in the side for league Edinburgh derby, we saw a different approach from Levein and his side, and it’s safe to say it didn’t work. Some fans already believe this transfer could be a blessing in disguise.
Of course, trying to predict the line-up almost two weeks in advance is a fool’s errand. With Walker off the wage bill and £300,000 in the bank, they should be able to loosen the purse strings in their pursuit of January targets.
It doesn’t matter who comes in, as long as they contribute to a derby victory - the first in three-and-a-half years - then nobody will look unfavourably at the decision to sell Walker at the beginning of the month. Otherwise, “what ifs” will be reverberating around the support yet again - but only once the booing has stopped.