Robbie Neilson believes Hearts have pulled off a major coup by landing USA internationalist Perry Kitchen.
The 23-year holding midfielder rejected a lucrative offer to stay with MLS club DC United as he sought to progress his career in Europe.
Hearts would have been content to wait until the summer to beef up their central midfield options, but when they became aware that Kitchen’s proposed move to Bundesliga side Kaiserslautern had fallen through, they felt the chance to recruit him was too good to refuse.
After spending a few days at Riccarton earlier this week and having a work permit granted, the 6ft American is expected back in Edinburgh next week to finalise a two-and-a-half-year contract.
“Hopefully, we have agreed everything and his work permit has been sorted,” said head coach Neilson. “He just has to go back to America to get his forms filled out and get his visa. We were looking predominantly to the summer to fill that position but when you get an opportunity to bring in a player like that it’s one you need to take.
“He got offered a huge contract to stay in the MLS, but he knocked it back because he wants to come to Europe to try and further his career over here. He had a deal to go to a Bundesliga club but that fell through and we were in the right place at the right time to get him.”
Neilson believes Kitchen will be fit enough to play a part for Hearts in the closing two months of the Premiership season. The new recruit hasn’t played club football since the MLS season ended in November, but was involved in the most recent USA squad get-together, where he made his third substitute appearance for his country against Canada in early February.
“He’s ready to play,” said Neilson. “He’ll come back over early next week and go into full training.”
Neilson believes Hearts are viewed as an attractive proposition by foreign players looking to work their way into higher-profiled leagues such as the English Premier League.
He pinpointed Osman Sow’s lucrative move to China as a perfect example of what can happen if a player succeeds at Tynecastle.
“I was a bit surprised Perry turned down the chance to stay in the MLS because it was a very lucrative contract, but it just shows the hunger of the boy to come here,” said Neilson.
“For a guy to have the option to go to different countries and pick here shows the league is doing well. We are in a position where we can offer good facilities, a good stadium and a good city as well as a good opportunity to progress.
“We’ve done it with Sow and we hope to do it with other players as well. [Sow’s move] helps with getting players in and getting agents to put players to us.
“A lot of the MLS players want to come to Europe and prove themselves. Perry saw this as a pathway to do that. It’s not all about money for him.
“Any player coming to Hearts is not going to make huge money, money that is going to sustain them for the rest of their career. It is important that they see this as a stepping stone.
“If they come here, they will be looked after, hopefully be better coached and then move on to somewhere else where they can earn bigger money,” added Neilson.
“All players want to do that. I don’t think anyone says they want to spend the rest of their career in Scotland – even Scottish players. I think it is important we are all honest about that. Every player wants to progress.
“If you ask our academy players, they all want to play in England. But they know the pathway to do that is to go through here and then make that step.”
Neilson is hopeful that Kitchen can help raise Hearts’ profile in America. “It’s great because it opens up that kind of market to us,” he said.
“If Perry comes in and does well hopefully other players will see that and see it as a pathway for them to come through.
“Rangers did it with [Claudio] Reyna, [Alejandro] Bedoya and [Carlos] Bocanegra. So if guys over there see Perry doing well then there might be a chance to bring them in. We’re just pleased to get him for the moment.”