HEARTS have left the door ajar for Billy King to return to Tynecastle by extending his contract.
The winger signed a six-month extension to his existing Hearts deal, which was due to expire in June 2017, before joining Inverness Caledonian Thistle on a season-long loan.
The Edinburgh club have thus protected themselves against losing King for free when the loan ends next summer. He will return to Riccarton for season 2017/18 with six months left on his contract.
Head coach Robbie Neilson explained that he wants to assess the 22-year-old next year, and that he could still have a future at Hearts.
“We extended his contract by six months so that, when he comes back to the club next summer, we can have another look at him,” said Neilson.
“He came back from Rangers and, with the players we brought in, he wasn’t going to get a lot of game time.
“He is at an age where he needs first-team football and under-20 games are no good for him. Hopefully, he goes out and gets plenty of game time and we’ll have another look.
“I think he will go to Inverness and do well, but we have [Sam] Nicholson, [Dario] Zanatta and [Jamie] Walker. We will look to recruit in wide areas, so we thought this was the best option for him.”
With King and Morgaro Gomis gone, Hearts have freed up space to strengthen their squad. Neilson wants a striker and a left-sided midfielder.
“Morgaro is away permanently [to the Malaysian club Kelantan],” he continued.
“He just wants to play every week and Malaysia was a big opportunity for him. We didn’t want to stand in his way. That frees up funds to recruit elsewhere. We have a very strong midfield but we will look to strengthen other areas.”
Neilson watched Hearts train at Malta’s Hibernians Stadium last night ahead of the Europa League second qualifying round, first leg, against Birkirkara.
Midfielder Don Cowie is expected to feature in the game tonight as the visitors try to secure a positive result for the second leg.
After Celtic’s shock 1-0 defeat against Lincoln Red Imps in the Champions League qualifiers, Neilson stated he does not feel under extra pressure to get a result for the sake of Scottish football.
“The Celtic result doesn’t put any extra pressure on us. What it does do is show how difficult these matches are. You are playing on difficult pitches, in challenging environments, all while being early in the pre-season.
“When you play at these bigger clubs – Celtic, Aberdeen, Hearts – then you need to win games whether you are against big teams or supposed smaller teams. I didn’t see the Celtic game, but you can’t read too much into it. It is early in pre-season for all sides. Our focus at the moment is solely on the European campaign, then we can think about the league.”