AN 18-year-old kid with only two starts for Hearts is the subject of a £200,000 bid from a high-profile club in one of the world’s top leagues. Why? Because he has an abundance of natural ability and talent, according to those who have scouted him, coached him and worked alongside him.
Adam King’s prospective move to Swansea City is slightly perplexing at first glance given he is a peripheral figure in the youngest Hearts squad in living memory. What Swansea’s scouts have identified however is potential, a key attribute in any young footballer. King has plenty of it, illustrated by his international appearances for Scotland at under-18 and under-19 level.
His contract at Hearts expires in June and Swansea want him to sign a pre-contract agreement for a summer move to Wales. They would then pay a considerable development fee for a Riccarton youth academy pupil who, to all intents and purposes, hasn’t fully graduated yet. Both clubs are still ironing out the finer details of the move.
King’s sum total of senior appearances so far is three, plus an impressive display against the German Bundesliga club Wolfsburg in a friendly. He remains a slightly unknown quantity to anyone who does not watch Hearts’ under-20 side regularly. For those who do, he is a dynamic and cultured midfielder with good vision and a wide range of passing.
One man who has watched him at close quarters is Ricky Sbragia, the former Sunderland manager, who is now in charge of Scotland Under-18s and Under-19s. He believes King, given time, can make the transition from youth-team playmaker in Scotland to Premier League mainstay in England. Initially, King would join Swansea’s under-21 squad with the hope of progressing into Michael Laudrup’s first team in years to come.
“Some players deal with the change right away and some take time and deal with it over a period of time,” said Sbragia. “If he does go to Swansea then they will take good care of him. I think Adam is mature enough to deal with it. The football is not any different from the level he’s been playing at.
“Swansea have obviously seen something in Adam that’s attracted them to him. He’s got that ability to learn, concentrate and focus on what’s being said and then apply it in games. It’s always a boost for a player going to a new club. The jump isn’t that great at that age group, it’s more about settling in and getting used to the philosophy of Swansea.
“They will have a way of playing and how they want things done. One thing they will do is give Adam time. It’s then about how he settles there. Things like digs are important. Where he will be living is, in my opinion, extremely important. The club will look after him in that regard. It will be a new experience and he’ll find it different but he shouldn’t be overawed by it.”
Sbragia was watching King’s older brother Billy, who is also vying for a first-team place at Hearts right now, when he first spotted Adam. “I think in general he’s just a good player. In one of the Hearts Under-20 games we were watching his old brother Billy, and we noticed Adam was playing in midfield. You could see he had a good engine and was a good footballer with a good appreciation of the game, so we brought him into the Scotland squad.
“He played centre-back in one of the games we watched him and did very well there as well. He would be a bit of a miss for Hearts because he’s a good footballer. They produce good footballers at Hearts, and that’s a credit to their youth policy. They have some exceptional young players.”
The question remains why King hasn’t made more of an impact at Tynecastle given the paucity of Hearts’ squad this season. In the player’s defence, he is more than a year younger than brother Billy and others playing more regularly at first-team level, such as Callum Paterson. His time will come.
“It takes time for a young player to make an impact at first-team level,” continued Sbragia. “He goes in and does a little bit maybe in a cameo role and does a job that way. Adam has a lot of years ahead of him to do that and more. At this point in time, it’s a learning process for him. Going in and getting a little taste of it and enjoying it. From his point of view, he needs to see how he can handle it.
“I think Adam has a bright future ahead of him, but only time will tell on that. It depends on his application and work ethic. One thing the Hearts players have is a great work ethic.”
Sbragia believes it could be in King’s interests to stay in Edinburgh until the summer before transferring south to Swansea. Between now and then, he can expect to be enlisted for Scotland Under-19 duty in February and March.
“I think it’s always a better idea for a player to come in to a new club during the summer when they have six or seven weeks of pre-season to get to know people. It gives them time to bed in and meet everyone,” said Sbragia. “It would be a good idea for Adam to do that but I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not.
“If he went in the summer he’d be completely fresh and he could say his goodbyes to people at Hearts as well. That also gives him time to organise and decide where he’s going to stay. Either way, I don’t think Adam will go into the situation with any fear. He will just get on with it. Hearts have a lot of belief in him and it looks as if Swansea must have that belief as well to make the bid in the first place.
“Adam didn’t make the Belarus trip [with Scotland Under-19s last October], although he was very close. “From my point of view, I told him he is an exceptionally good player. It’s just about picking 18 players to help us beat a team and stay on the road to qualifying. He was really unlucky not to come with us but he’s been earmarked for the next round of games. We have training camps next month and then games in March, so we’ll look to bring him in for them.
“We know what Adam is good at and we know his strengths. I would say he has a good career ahead of him. It’s just a case of where he goes. Does he stay at Hearts? That would be fine. If he heads off for a new adventure, that’s fine as well.”