Hearts analysis: Kye Rowles shows off talent on grandest stage and promises to make Tynecastle club a fortune
‘We will start the bidding at ten-million pounds. Now, do I have 12?’
Hearts fans watching the World Cup action on Wednesday afternoon could not help but salivate at the prospect of what Kye Rowles could recoup for the club after the Australian put in a second successive performance on the highest stage that was dripping in excellence. Alongside Harry Souttar, the centre-back expertly held Denmark’s attackers at bay and completed a tremendous shock in a group stage already filled with them. The pre-tournament dark horses were dumped out of the competition by a team many of whom in Scotland disregarded as a ragtag SPFL select XI and were fancied to be one of the weakest in the competition.
Weak is certainly not a word that belongs anywhere near the list of adjectives used to describe Rowles' performance. The 24-year-old was the epitome of cool on a stage where it would have been forgiven for nerves to reverberate throughout his body and make his teeth chatter. Managers always tell players in such a scenario to make the absolute most of the opportunity because it might never come round again. Well, Rowles not only did that he also made sure there’s going to be a fourth appearance at the World Cup for himself and several of his team-mates as the Aussies will now go into a last 16 match with the winners of Group C on Saturday evening.
Time and again versus the Danes, Rowles played like a footballer who not only wasn’t scared of the situation, but had the determination to meet it head on. He wasn’t reactive, he was proactive. He continually moved out from the defensive line to win back possession by attacking the football, sometimes then talking possession himself, looking up and picking out a team-mate with one of many accurate forward passes.
One attribute which has stood out in maroon this season has been his awareness. Having a sense for danger should be a given for any centre-back, but many lack the footballing intelligence. Rowles has it in spades. He came out to meet attackers at just the right time, making crucial blocks and interceptions to help prevent Denmark from gaining any momentum in what was a bewilderingly lacklustre performance from a side that almost made the Euro 2020 final last year. Even when Rowles did manage to let the ball go past him there was a bit of bad luck involved, like when Jesper Lindstrøm got him in a one-on-one behind the rest of the Australian defence. Rowles played it perfectly but unfortunately saw Lindstrøm’s attempt to cut inside flick off his foot and right back into the path of the attacker, who failed to make the most out of the situation.
It’s been an incredible rise for the former Central Coast Mariners defender, who hadn’t even played for his nation prior to a warm-up game against Jordan on June 1. He impressed Arnold enough to remain in the side for the crucial World Cup play-off encounters and his stock has only risen since.
He's been excellent in maroon this season and was a crucial miss for a couple of months after breaking his metatarsal scoring his first goal at Tynecastle against St Johnstone back in late August. With Craig Halkett returning, Hearts once again promise to have the kind of defensive solidity which characterised their run to third place last season.
Even if he were on a one-year deal it would look like an excellent piece of business, but thankfully Hearts don’t have to worry about losing him for a cut-price fee any time soon. Ryan Porteous’ agent had his phone ringing off the hook after the Hibs' centre-back’s eye-catching showing against Ukraine in the Nations League. Can you imagine the interest in Rowles after what he’s done with the whole world watching? There are still over two-and-a-half years left on his contract and he’s still got a few years to go before he enters his perceived prime as a football. Suitors will be aware of Rowles’ abilities from the advanced stats and scouting websites like Wyscout, but they would have wondered how he would handle the test against top quality opposition. Now they’ve got their answer.
It feels almost incendiary to talk about a player leaving Tynecastle to move up in their football career at this point in time. Every club is a selling club, but Hearts supporters are quite fortunate that many of the current team don’t appear to be a clear threat to walk out of the door anytime soon. Whether it be the likes of Stephen Kingsley, Barrie McKay, Liam Boyce or Lawrence Shankland who’ve already had a go at a higher level; Craig Gordon and Liam Boyce who are on the other side of 30, or the likes of Cammy Devlin, Alex Cochrane and Beni Baningime who have showed plenty of talent and future potential, but likely not enough to be a departing concern in January.
With his showing at these finals, Rowles has suddenly vaulted himself to the top of the list of Hearts’ most prized asset. The club’s business plan is to repeating reach the group stages of European football, as they tasted this season, thus building themselves up enough to a level greater than every other team in Scotland other than Celtic and Rangers. They invested quite a bit this summer, including a transfer fee spent on Rowles, in order to try and make it happen. Just how much they can reinvest when someone calls and asks about the red-headed lad at the back.