The recruitment of an out-of-favour player approaching their 33-year-old birthday is always likely to raise concerns among supporters, but a former colleague of Don Cowie’s insists Hearts have pulled off a coup by landing one of the fittest and most consistent players he has worked with.
Andrew Taylor played with Cowie at each of his previous three clubs – Watford, Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic. Having shared a dressing-room with the Scot for five consecutive seasons prior to his own loan move to Reading earlier this term, the defender knows better than most what Cowie, who this week joined Hearts on a two-and-a-half-year contract, will bring to Tynecastle.
“Don and I seem to have followed each other around for about the last five years,” Taylor told the Evening News. “He’s a great lad and a player I rate highly. I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s full of energy. He’s a bit older than me but I’ve not seen a fitter player than him. He’s non-stop, he just runs constantly.
“He’s very good technically on the ball. He always wants it and doesn’t hide. He can play wide or centrally. When I first linked up with him at Watford [in 2010], he played predominantly wide on the right, but as the years progressed, he moved more inside. He can play either position, though, because he’s got a very good football brain. He gets up and down the pitch. He’ll get into the box and create things. He can do a bit of everything. He’ll be a great addition for Hearts.”
Taylor scoffed at the suggestion that Hearts have signed a player who is slowing down. “Age is just a number,” he said. “In football, people sometimes assume that as soon as a player hits 30, they are past it. I was with Don in pre-season and his fitness levels are still phenomenal – far better than mine and I’m only 29.
“He’s still got a good few years left in him at a good level. Honestly, he’s fit as a fiddle. He’s played in the Scottish Premiership before and I think he’ll be a big player for Hearts. He’s got the quality and he’s definitely got the fitness, so hopefully it will all work out for him.”
Since leaving Scotland seven years ago, most of Cowie’s best work was produced under Malky Mackay, the manager who took both he and Taylor to Watford, Cardiff and, most recently, Wigan. Impressive form in his early years down south helped bring him international recognition with Scotland and he was instrumental in helping Cardiff win promotion to the Premier League three seasons ago. He featured in 18 of the Bluebirds’ matches during a tumultuous, Vincent Tan-disrupted campaign in England’s top flight and turned down the chance to stay on in the Welsh capital when after they were relegated. Rangers and Blackburn Rovers tried to sign him the summer before last, but he opted instead for a reunion with Mackay at Wigan, who had high hopes of going straight back up to the Premier League following their own relegation.
Instead a disastrous campaign at the DW Stadium resulted in Wigan being relegated to League One. Cowie struggled to command game time at Wigan after Gary Caldwell replaced Mackay last April, but Taylor, who also suffered amid the malaise at the Latics, is confident the Invernesian will get back on track at Tynecastle after securing his release from Wigan last week.
“Malky loved him, but it’s hard not to love Don,” said Taylor. “He’s a great guy and he’s an honest player who will give you 100 per cent in every game. He never goes hiding. There are certain players who, when the going gets tough, you might think ‘do I really want him in the team?’ That’s not Don, though – I’d have him in my team any day of the week. He’s Mr Consistent. You can always rely on him.
“The first two years at Cardiff, he was particularly good. He was a big part of the squad when we got promoted and even in the Premier League, he held his own. We were in a bit of a struggle, fighting relegation, which is never easy, but whenever Don played, I felt he did well and I’m sure he’d feel the same way. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for us and we ended up getting relegated but it shows how highly rated he was that Wigan gave him a two-year deal. When Don and I signed for Wigan, the plan was that we would get promoted back to the Premier League straight away.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us. Last year was a difficult season for all of us at Wigan, with a lot of things going on. That resulted in us getting relegated, which none of us had anticipated that at the start. Sometimes you just have periods in your career where things don’t go to plan.
“But Don’s certainly had more good seasons than bad ones. He’s had a fantastic career down in England, topped off with winning the Championship at Cardiff and then playing a good few games in the Premier League. People sometimes forget he’s been capped ten times for Scotland. The experience he’s got will be invaluable to Hearts.”