Armand Gnanduillet rejected three offers from England to join Hearts after taking Clevid Dikamona's advice
and live on Freeview channel 276
His mind was swayed towards a future in England’s Championship where he believed his talent and physical strength could succeed. The French striker turns 29 next month so choosing his next destination was critical.
A call to close friend Clevid Dikamona ensured a quick decision and equally quick results: Gnanduillet plumped for Hearts and revelled in a two-goal debut against Raith Rovers on Tuesday night.
Towering over members of the press afterwards, he explained why he picked an 18-month contract in the Scottish Championship over its English equivalent. Dikamona, now at Kilmarnock after two seasons at Tynecastle Park, played a significant part.
“I had four real offers, including Hearts, but the best one for me as a player was Hearts. That's why I came, I think it's a good choice. I will make sure it's a good choice. I am happy and grateful to get this chance,” he said.
“I was waiting because I think I could play in the Championship in England. I was focused on playing in that league but then the offer came from Hearts. I knew the club a little bit because Clevid Dikamona played here last year. He is one of my close friends.
“We call each other often. As soon as I had the offer I called him. He just said: 'Bro, you must go because you will score goals there and you will be back at your level.' That's all I needed.
“I knew a little bit about the club from him. I didn't think too much about it, to be honest. I just jumped at the offer because I wanted to be here.
“Obviously, it's easier to come into a team when the team is doing well. I know my team-mates will help me and I'm a cool guy so everything is going to be fine.”
Concerned whether he would be the established No.9 in some of those English Championship teams, Gnanduillet chose Hearts knowing he will play regularly. The prospect of sampling top-flight football in Scotland next season was another factor.
He might also have been aware that the Tynecastle support reserves particular affection for bustling centre-forwards with aggression and physicality.
Mark de Vries became their hero nearly 20 years ago and others have since tried to fill the role with varying degrees of success. Names like Kevin Kyle, Genero Zeefuik, Osman Sow, Juanma Delgado, Kyle Lafferty and Uche Ikpeazu spring to mind.
“Hearts didn't have to say anything, to be honest,” added the new recruit. “I watch a lot of football so I know a little bit about the Scottish Championship and the Premiership.
“I know Hearts should be in the Premiership. When the manager spoke to me, I spoke to Clevid as well, I had a great feeling. I don't know why.
“I just looked at the offers I had and this was the best for me in terms of playing, getting back fit, and maybe being a champion in another country. Another promotion for me would be great. I think it's a good move and I have started well.”
Making history on your debut is pretty much as good as it gets. Amid freezing rain and mist at Stark’s Park, Gnanduillet instinctively converted a rebound to open his Hearts scoring account and then rose to head home a corner to complete a 4-0 victory.
He became the first Tynecastle debutant to score twice as a substitute. Team-mates not on the field voiced their approval from the main stand with shouts of “go on big man” as he found his rhythm.
Following 18 goals in 36 games for Blackpool last season, it seems Gnanduillet has lost none of the predatory touch. And he isn’t even fully fit yet.
“Obviously I should have scored four goals, but I scored two.” Obviously. There will be plenty more nets to bulge between now and the end of the season. Winning at Raith put Hearts nine points clear in the Championship title race.
“It's a good start, we kept a clean sheet. I think we could have scored more goals but we won 4-0, that's very good,” said Gnanduillet. “It has given me a lot of confidence and strikers need confidence. It was the perfect night for me.”
At times Hearts have struggled to create goalscoring opportunities both this season and last. Gnanduillet’s arrival simplifies the problem somewhat.
Provide him with crosses and he will score more than most forwards. Team-mates will figure out quickly that they only need to put it in the mixer and let him do his stuff. It isn’t complicated or elaborate, nor does it need to be.
He brings healthy competition for Hearts’ Northern Ireland international forward Liam Boyce. Indeed, the two might form a useful partnership if given the chance, although manager Robbie Neilson generally prefers one striker and two wingers.
Raith was only one game and Gnanduillet should be judged after ten or 12 appearances rather than a solitary 30-minute substitute outing. Nonetheless, given he is short of match sharpness and hadn’t played for a month since leaving the Turkish club Altay, he looked in impressive condition.
“It's been so hard and so strange for me since the season finished in February last year,” he said. “Now I'm playing football in good conditions with a good squad and a big club.
“I've scored two goals and I just thank God. I just want to carry on, keep scoring goals and help the team be where they should be.”