Hearts have made a move to make Dundee’s Craig Wighton their 16th signing of the summer. Craig Fowler looks at the player the club are getting and what fans can expect.
• READ MORE: Hearts make move for Dundee striker Craig Wighton
Here’s the long and short of it. Wighton was projected as the next Scottish football superstar when he emerged at Dens Park just 16 years old. Since then he’s scored one of the famous goals in recent Dundee history, to relegate rivals United at Dens, but he’s also suffered a dreadful knee injury and, over the piece, has so far failed to live up to his undoubted potential.
Partly this has been down to a lack of consistent selection. He’s played over 100 games in his young career but has come off the bench in almost exactly half of those matches. He’s already worked under five different permanent managers - Barry Smith, John Brown, Ray McKinnon, Paul Hartley, Neil McCann - yet none of them have managed to find a place in the side for Wighton to frequently sparkle.
Partly that’s down to his talents making him a bit of a tweener; someone who can play multiple roles but doesn’t quite suit any of them.
He lacks acceleration, power and crossing ability to play as an out-and-out winger. He’s not big enough to operate at the head of the attack. And while technically very good, he doesn’t yet have the ingenuity of a playmaking No.10.
Things seemed to be finally coming together for him at the tail end of last season when McCann largely used him on the left side of the attack in a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 formation. This allowed him to attack centrally without having to fight for space in the hustle and bustle.
He’s also deceptively good at getting around opponents. Manipulating both his opponent and the ball, he can wriggle round full-backs without turning on the jets.
His addition to the side after injury was a big factor in Dundee remaining in the division, but he’s once again found himself on the outside looking in as this season starts. Fans have speculated that it’s down to a falling out with the manager. This is the de facto assumption among the Dundee support whenever a player disappears from the first-team under the 1998 Scottish Cup winner, with good reason. However, it’s more likely that Wighton just doesn’t have a place in the 4-4-2 diamond that McCann has preferred to begin this campaign.
This is one of the reasons why this move might be good for Hearts and the player himself. Playing on the left with encouragement to drift inside is a very specific role that not every team is going to use, but Hearts have quite a few times this season.
Whenever Steven Naismith has been on the park with both Uche Ikpeazu and Steven MacLean, he’s operated from the left of midfield moving inward. There the two veterans have generally linked superbly and, with Ikpeazu’s awesome presence, given the Hearts attack real dynamism.
Having those two in the same dressing room should also aid Wighton’s development. Last season’s breakout star Harry Cochrane has praised Naismith for the wisdom he’s imparted to the young players in the squad, a compliment that’s since been echoed by others around Tynecastle. MacLean, meanwhile, is the type of player Wighton should be looking to emulate; someone who doesn’t have the physical tools in his locker but has still been able to fashion a great career for themselves. Despite looking like a stiff breeze could knock him over, no one battles harder than MacLean, while he’s also one of the most intelligent attackers you’re likely to see. If they can pass on some of their experience to Wighton then he should grow.
When John Souttar first signed for Hearts from Dundee United, Tannadice supporters were fairly pleased to see the back of him, despite his enormous potential as a 19-year-old. That’s because Souttar’s development had stalled and things had turned sour. There’s not the same resentment among the Dundee support towards Wighton - after *that* goal there never could be - though they’ve gradually been forced to confront the notion that it may never happen for him at his boyhood heroes.
Hearts represent a fresh start.
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