BILLY KING refuses to accept his Hearts career is over. He left Tynecastle for Inverness in July because he feared stagnating, however he will return to Edinburgh next summer hoping to finally become a first-team regular.
The winger extended his Hearts contract before heading north, giving both club and player the option to re-assess the situation in a year’s time. He felt regular game time this season was essential and, at 22, a bit-part role was useless. Hence the loan move to the Highlands.
A product of the Riccarton youth academy, King isn’t yet ready to close the door on possible redemption at his formative club. “It depends how I play,” he said. “You never know what the manger’s thinking. People change their opinions in football all the time.
“Maybe he’ll have a different philosophy next year, I’m not sure. You never know what’s going to happen in the future. I’m just trying to concentrate on putting in my best performance just now and still improve as a player.
“Obviously I renewed the contract at the end of the season. I spoke to Robbie Neilson [Hearts head coach] on Tuesday and he was asking how it was going. If I have a good season, who knows what’s going to happen. I’m just concentrating on playing now. I signed another six months so I’ll be coming back to Hearts at the end of the season. I’m not really looking beyond that. I’m just concentrating on getting a good season under my belt and trying to play as many games as possible.”
King spent the second half of last season on loan at Rangers. He reported back to Riccarton in June harbouring hope that his fortunes might change ahead of the new campaign. He was quickly to be disappointed.
“The impression I got when I came back for pre-season was that I wasn’t going to play. I asked the gaffer about whether I should go on loan to Inverness and he said it was entirely up to me.
“I felt I wasn’t going to be in Hearts’ plans and I couldn’t afford to be in that position for another year. So I went up to Inverness and, thankfully, I’m getting a lot of game time.”
He is philosophical when asked about the reasons why he was seen merely as a squad player by Neilson. “The players in my positions are top players – Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker. Sometimes he likes to play Arnaud Djoum on the right. Maybe it’s just philosophy or whatever. I think a reason he let me go on loan is that he has a lot of options in those areas.”
King will be back on the Tynecastle pitch tomorrow night when Scotland Under-21s host Macedonia in a European Championship qualifier. He can be sure of a warm reception from locals, and has been similarly well received in Inverness.
He admitted comparisons between Richie Foran, the new Inverness manager, and Neilson, are justified. “Richie has changed the style of play to a more direct approach. The first three games of the season, we went one in the hole and one up top.
“Last weekend, we beat St Johnstone with two up top with big Drapes [Ross Draper] in behind the strikers. It worked for us and it was a really good performance. The gaffer just wants crosses and direct play going forward. I like everything I’ve heard.
“The style of play is similar to Hearts. Robbie likes a direct 4-4-2 with crosses in the box. We did the same when we beat St Johnstone. In that respect, they are similar and I’m really happy.”
Foran’s influence at the Caledonian Stadium has been strong for many years. King explained that the Irishman’s management technique carries the same characteristics he showed as a player. “He’s a big character in the dressing room and the boys respect him 100 per cent,” said King.
“We’ll put 100 per cent into every game for him. I remember playing against him once and he brushed me off the ball. I was about 18, that’s the only time I remember playing against him. He just pushed me out the road, that was it.”