Matt Gilks could be about to climb off the Burnley substitutes’ bench and into the Europa League. It is an opportunity he won’t want to miss at the age of 33.
The former Scotland internationalist is in advanced talks with Hearts and will jump at the chance to be a No.1 goalkeeper again and sample European football.
Craig Levein capped him for Scotland and, as director of football at Tynecastle, is now close to bringing Gilks north to succeed Neil Alexander. Kenny Black, part of Levein’s Scotland coaching team, believes Hearts and Gilks would be a perfect fit for one another.
Gilks was Blackpool’s first-choice keeper in England’s Premier League five years ago but has spent the last two seasons on the bench at Burnley as reserve to Tom Heaton.
He has managed just two competitive games with the Lancashire club, although Black is confident the lack of activity won’t hinder his chances of thriving at Hearts.
Attitude and professionalism are amongst Gilks’ best attributes, and Black insisted he will be motivated by the opportunities lying in wait in Edinburgh.
“Matty will be looking at all these things – the attraction of Europe, being in Edinburgh with Hearts, a major club in Scotland, all of that will appeal to him. I think he’ll be excited by the challenge of coming to Tynecastle,” Black told the Evening News.
“I’m delighted for him and I wouldn’t have any concern at all about him coming up and adapting to Scottish football. It’s a good age to bring his experience to the Hearts back four and it’s a useful asset to have.
“I think it’s a really good signing for Hearts if it happens. At 33, he’s at a good age and he’s looked after himself. He’s been at Burnley for the last two years as No.2.
“He probably had a difficult experience at Blackpool at the end given all the problems they’ve had. He’s been No.2 at Burnley in the Premier League and then the Championship. He’s been working at a good level and I know he’ll have looked after himself physically.”
It was Gilks’ proficient approach and commitment which impressed Levein most during his time as Scotland coach. He first called the keeper up in August 2010, although his international debut didn’t come until two years later in a 3-1 friendly win over Australia.
He was named in squad after squad without getting much game time, yet it never once affected his application. Gilks only amassed three Scotland caps in total but Black recalls a goalkeeper who consistently maintained high standards.
“Mick Oliver [SFA scout] did all the research regarding availability for Scotland,” explained Black.
“Craig got wind of the fact Matt was eligible [through his Perth-born grandmother]. Craig was keen to get him up and have a look at him. The fact Craig included him in all the squads is testimony to how much he appreciated what Matt brought to the group.
“Although Matt didn’t feature much, he was in every squad. He was up against Allan McGregor and people like that but his attitude was absolutely spot-on. That was one of the things Craig appreciated.
“Matt was coming up knowing he wasn’t going to be a regular with Scotland. His commitment and attitude to training were great, and don’t forget his ability because he is a really good goalkeeper. He was at Blackpool at that time.”
Sitting on the bench at Burnley may not have been Gilks’ intention during what should be the peak years of a goalkeeper’s career. Now, with his contract almost finished at Turf Moor, he is available as a free agent and Hearts are in the market for a goalkeeper.
Alexander’s exit was a surprise given he was close to signing a new deal just two weeks ago. He didn’t want to be second choice at the age of 38, which creates a gap Gilks could fill perfectly.
“Matt will be desperate to make a mark and secure regular football. I think that’s what would attract him to a club like Hearts,” continued Black. “Craig will know him very well from our time with Scotland. He’ll be a good signing for Hearts. His attitude will be an asset.
“I don’t think it’s a gamble in any way. He will be keen to get regular games with the ability he has so I imagine it will be an exciting challenge for him.”