Gillingham manager Steve Evans says he will be first in the queue to sign Olly Lee if the midfielder leaves Hearts this summer.
Lee spent last season on loan in England's League One and Evans wants him back permanently if he is deemed surplus to requirements at Tynecastle Park.
The 28-year-old hopes to re-establish himself in Scotland when football resumes following the coronavirus shutdown. His Hearts contract runs until 2021 but his future there is unclear.
He fell out of favour after a disagreement with former manager Craig Levein and was subsequently loaned out. He has yet to train or play under current manager Daniel Stendel, plus there is the uncertainty of whether the Edinburgh club will be relegated and need to cut squad size.
For now, Lee is planning to report to Riccarton whenever pre-season training starts. Evans told the Evening News he will watch with interest in case the Englishman becomes available.
"He has been very good for us and we'd love to keep him. We'd love to make him a permanent part of our squad, but of course Hearts are his bosses. That decision lies with the manager and directors at Hearts," said Evans.
"We would try and sign him if he was available. He's a brilliant professional and a good footballer. He would become really sharp again with a pre-season. I've always believed it's difficult for any player who misses a pre-season and Olly missed a lot of that last summer.
"When we finally got him in August, that time was gone and you can't really get it back. He got himself really fit and was doing extra sessions. The kid lives and breathes his football.
"I speak to him most days during this break and he is very fortunate to come from a football family with his dad [Rob, ex-England midfielder] and brother [Elliot, Luton Town striker]. They can still get involved in little games and one-v-ones to keep themselves sharp."
Lee scored six goals in 34 appearances for Gillingham before the season stopped and was a hugely popular figure with supporters at Priestfield Stadium.
"The fans loved him. We had him working incredibly hard," explained Evans. "The first thing my teams have always done over the years is work. If you don't work hard, you don't play.
"It's not stupid running, not running for the sake of running, but out of possession you need to be working hard. Then, when we are in possession, you need to be working even harder.
"Olly put a shift in for the team, going forward in possession and creating things. He is a very good player and our fans took to him. Everyone at the club did – players, staff, the lot. He is a dedicated young professional.
"When he first came to us it was going to take us a few weeks to get him back up to sharpness because he hadn't played for so long. He had been in with the kids and in the wilderness, really.
“He came to us and took to us, plus we took to him. He was excellent for us. I couldn't say anything different.”
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