Exclusive: Stephen Humphrys open to a permanent Hearts move after making his feelings clear on Wigan return
Enthusiasm abounds from Stephen Humphrys discussing his Hearts future and whether it will be short-term or long. Although contracted to Wigan Athletic until summer 2024, he doesn’t hide the appeal of the latter.
The popular forward will see out his season-long loan at Tynecastle Park after Wigan’s recall option expired on January 14. If Hearts supporters are both relieved and thankful for that scenario, they are also asking what happens beyond the summer. Is a permanent deal for Humphrys possible? Would the Edinburgh club make a transfer offer? What would Wigan accept?
Humphrys’ salary at the DW Stadium is considerably higher than Hearts’ bigger earners and that would be merely one stumbling block. Shaun Maloney’s appointment as Wigan’s new manager was confirmed on Saturday and he may decide that the player’s future lies in England next season. So the matter is far from straightforward.
Humphrys, though, is open to the possibility of converting that loan into a permanent agreement. He has moved lock, stock and barrel to Scotland to immerse himself fully in life with Hearts. He made it clear earlier this month that he wanted to remain at Tynecastle when the prospect of Wigan exercising their recall option was raised.
Gorgie natives created a song to publicise their affection for the 25-year-old, he has experienced European football and scored against Fiorentina since moving here, plus the Riccarton dressing room is one of the friendliest he has known. There are plenty reasons to stay longer but any negotiations will likely be outwith his control.
For now, he is focused on helping Hearts pursue European football for the second year in succession having made his feelings known about returning to Wigan this month. “I made it very clear I want to stay here,” Humphrys told the Evening News. “Wigan is a great club but I made the decision to come here at the start of the season, so I want to honour that and do my best for this club.
“I spoke to the manager here. He asked me if I want to stay here and I said: ‘Yeah, I really love it here. I love the fans and my team-mates so why not stay?’ I’ve literally moved everything up here to be here. My girlfriend is up here, my dog is up here. I don’t see the point in getting halfway through and then throwing all that away.”
He need only check his Twitter feed to see the appetite within the Hearts support for him to hang around longer. “Like I said, I love it here so we will have to see what happens in the summer I suppose. I have got another 18 months left on my [Wigan] contract from now so it’s not really in my hands. I don’t know what Wigan’s stance would be, I don’t really know what Hearts’ stance would be. I read an interview with the [Hearts] gaffer where he said it would be something he would revisit in the summer. If that happens, I’m all ears.”
He has already gained far more from this loan experience than expected despite a persistent ankle injury sidelining him for more than two months. It would take a lot more than that to douse Humphrys’ zeal for Hearts. He finally reclaimed a place in the starting line-up for Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Livingston and is now preparing for tonight’s meeting with Rangers.
The Edinburgh club are in the midst of a ten-game unbeaten run dating back to November and have really shunted up the gears since the World Cup break. Humphrys is revelling in the good form and resultant camaraderie.
“It’s been so valuable for me. I just love the lads here,” he exclaimed. “It’s been good to come to such a positive dressing room where literally everyone gets on and everyone is friends. You can have a day off and sometimes, at other clubs, you think: ‘Oh, I’ve got to go into training tomorrow.’ Here, I actually look forward to seeing the lads.
“Just training with them and playing matches has been a pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed that, then there have been the European experiences. Games are on Sky Sports, like Sunday, so the whole thing has been really good for me. I want to score more goals and hopefully I can add some more to my tally.
“I wanted to get back into the team. I’ve been out of the starting line-up for a few months now so just to get back in and help the team as much as I can was important. It’s nice to be back in. Sunday wasn’t the best game to come back in but I always want to do my best for the team and keep myself in contention.”
Scoring on your injury comeback against Hibs definitely helps. Not long after that, punters started belting out the “Do Wah Diddy” number. If you haven’t heard it, you soon will. “I’ve heard it a few times. I love the fans here, they’ve really taken to me,” smiled Humphrys. “I try to interact with them a little bit on Twitter as well. It’s a good song. A couple of times when I’ve been warming up, the likes of Jorge Grant and Kio [Orestis Kiomourtzoglou] have said: ‘Good song, to be fair.’
“I hope they keep singing it because it’s quite catchy. When you see the fans come out in their numbers, like they did on Sunday, it’s great for the lads.”
It remains to be seen whether this particular fan/player relationship is cut short come June or converted into something more lasting. For many Hearts supporters, Gorgie’s Number 29 is firmly on their minds.