It’s the week before Christmas and the sales have not yet begun, but an orderly queue of bargain hunters will begin to form imminently outside a major Capital retailer.
Hearts legend Colin Cameron believes representatives from clubs in England and elsewhere will be more aware than ever of the cut-price signings available from Tynecastle after Iceland internationalist Eggert Jonsson signed for Wolves yesterday.
The departure of one of the Riccarton Academy’s most prized products, for whom Hearts reputedly received compensation of just £250,000, could “set the ball rolling”, says Cameron, and spark interest in the likes of winger David Templeton and Scotland internationalist Ryan Stevenson. Cameron says clubs will be keen to exploit Hearts’ necessity to reduce a crippling wage bill, with managers in the Premier League and beyond looking to wheel and deal wisely to realise the full potential of their transfer budgets.
“Wolves have seen the situation at Hearts and moved before anyone else and got the first bite of the cherry,” says Cameron. “They’ve thought it’s an opportunity to get a player of Eggert Jonsson’s quality at that kind of money. There are a few players that will be of interest to other clubs, especially now that Wolves have started the ball rolling by coming in for Eggert, and I’m sure a few more will be looking for similar moves.
“I would say the obvious targets are David Templeton and Ryan Stevenson, players like that who are young and have got it all in front of them and are doing well at the moment. Other teams will see that as a chance to tap in and get these players cheaper, players with potential and an opportunity to improve. If Premier League clubs can get these guys at a knock-down price, it’s going to benefit them. Unfortunately it won’t benefit Hearts, it will weaken the squad, and they won’t get the what the player is really worth.”
Hearts, who in 2007 traded academy product Craig Gordon to Sunderland for £9 million, could be unable to refuse relatively modest offers for players in whom they have invested years of time and money. Cameron argues that if those who have driven forward the youth set-up at Riccarton in recent years, such as Darren Murray and John Murray, grow frustrated at seeing some of the club’s finest self-produced talent leave for a pittance, only major shareholder Vladimir Romanov and those in charge of finances at Hearts can accept the blame for not being able to command the true value of players.
“It comes back to the running of the club,” says Cameron. “It has to be the people behind the scenes with financial responsibility [who take the blame] – the way they’ve run the club has got them into the situation they’re in.
“Of course [Darren and John Murray] will be frustrated. Everybody connected to the club will be frustrated and disappointed. But, there’s a lot of potential in the current under-19 team, and now there’s an opportunity for them to step up to the plate because of the current situation that the club is in. They will be thrust into the limelight and, in the long run, that’s good for the players as they gain experience. Initially, it will be a baptism of fire, but Sir Alex Ferguson threw in [David] Beckham, [Paul] Scholes and the Nevilles [Gary and Phil] at Manchester United and look what happened there.”
Jonsson’s versatility is one of his greatest assets and no doubt key to the appeal he holds with Wolves boss Mick McCarthy. But, because the 23-year-old adopted various roles in the Hearts midfield and defence and will perhaps not be missed in any one area of the pitch, will his absence be as keenly felt as if he had served as a mainstay in a single position? Not so, says Cameron, who feels Jonsson’s on-field aura will prove hard to replace.
“He’s got a good presence and is experienced enough, and that’s not an easy thing to replace, especially when the likelihood is you’re replacing that experience with a younger player with relatively no experience. It will be difficult initially, but if the young player gets the opportunity maybe that eagerness to prove himself will benefit the team.”
A year and a half ago, Jonsson was named Hearts’ Young Player of the Year, with manager at the time Jim Jefferies calling him a “terrific professional” with admirable attitude and determination.
Such a personality, coupled with his consistency and ambition as a player, earned Jonsson his dream transfer to the Premier League, following in the footsteps of Scotland defender Christophe Berra and Cameron himself in making the move from Tynecastle to Molineux.
Cameron said: “There’s been a few of us – Wolves are obviously tapping into resources up there and gaining the benefits.
“From Eggert’s point of view, it’s fantastic. He has seen Christophe go down there and do well, and he’ll be looking to do the same.
“Only time will tell. It all depends on Eggert himself and how he can adapt to the physicality of down south. With no disrespect to the SPL, the English Premiership is a different level. They’re physically stronger players, real athletes at the top of their game, playing at the highest level, playing for all the big international teams. That’s going to take a bit of getting used to. If he can adapt himself to that, he’s got the attributes to become a top player.
“For him, the predicament of Hearts will have influenced his move, but whether the money they’re taking makes a great deal of difference to the bigger picture . . . I don’t think it will. Whether the players receive their outstanding wages or not, I’m not sure.”
Cameron divided the best part of a decade between spells at Hearts, whom he joined in 1996, and Wolves, who he left ten years later. The culture shock he experienced when arriving in English football from the SPL in 2001 is, he says, still keenly felt today by players whose careers assume a similar upward trajectory.
“For Eggert, it’ll just be about adapting to the way that he trains. It’s different down south to Scotland. Wolves, in their training complex, have their own gym and their own programmes – it’s a bigger issue down there. Training is important but the preparation and the diet is a bigger deal.”
The predicament of Leigh Griffiths illustrates the great demands of such a move. The striker joined Wolves from Dundee earlier this year only to be sent on loan to Hibs and subsequently told by Mick McCarthy he was no longer required by his parent club. Jonsson must prove his worth or face a similar fate by being labelled as “returned goods”.