Don Cowie wants Hearts’ unsettled winger Jamie Walker to block out thoughts of joining Rangers until the Tynecastle club receive an acceptable transfer offer.
Ibrox officials have had bids of around £500,000 and £600,000 rejected this week, leaving Walker to remain a Hearts player for now.
Midfielder Cowie is convinced the 23-year-old can still thrive in Edinburgh if he is still there when the new season starts in a month’s time. Rangers’ interest will continue with further offers expected for a player whose Hearts contract runs until summer 2018. Cowie’s message to Walker is that he must now handle the attention and spotlight that goes with being a wanted man.
“That’s where you just need to get on with it. We are paid to play football,” explained the 34-year-old. “I know Jamie loves football, loves playing football, loves watching football. So he just needs to get back playing football and enjoying that again. I know he is still young in football terms and these are experiences he will learn from in the future.
“He just needs to block all of this out and concentrate. He is a Hearts player and that’s all that matters right now. He needs to do the best for the club and, until such time that changes, there’s not an issue.”
Hearts are eager to secure at least £1million for Walker. They lost Callum Paterson to Cardiff City on freedom of contract and were left with a development fee of just under £400,000. Sam Nicholson is also on the verge of completing a move to the MLS club Minnesota United, which would mean no compensation for Hearts. The Tynecastle hierarchy are therefore determined to secure market value for Walker.
“Jamie’s our player right now and I’m looking forward to training with him next week. The club has made a stance with the value that they see him at. Until that’s met, it’s not an issue really,” said Cowie, who believes Walker can earn full Scotland honours in time.
“He had a fantastic three-quarters of a season last year. What’s important for him is that he does it throughout a season. If he does that, that’s when you can start talking about Scottish recognition because he has the ability to do that.
“Up until about three-quarters through the season last year, there weren’t many better in this country than him in the area he was playing – give or take the Celtic players – in terms of end product and goals. He was fantastic and it is only right that the club want what a player like that is worth. They have made a firm stance.”
Cowie, who holds ten Scotland caps, believes staying in Gorgie would be just as beneficial to Walker’s aspirations of playing for his country. “I don’t see why another season at Hearts can’t get him in the Scotland squad. It can only be helped by the fact Christophe Berra is here, an established part of the national side, maybe more people will watch him. It is up to him to keep playing well, improving and add consistency to his game. Who knows what could happen for him?
“Callum has about 150 games and is ready to move on, maybe Sam is the same. They are a bit beyond their years in terms of what they have achieved. If they feel it’s time to make that step, then good luck to them. But it definitely wouldn’t hold them back to stay here for another year or two. I didn’t go to England until I was 26.”
The exodus from Tynecastle has left many asking questions about how Hearts’ squad will look next season. Berra, striker Cole Stockton and the versatile Pole Rafal Grzelak are the only new signings so far but more are anticipated.
“When you look at it, it’s only the middle of June, the window doesn’t close until the end of August,” stated Cowie. “So we have basically got two and a half months, which is a long time.
“Getting Christophe in early is a big statement, we all saw him last week against England and how well he played. At the same time, we can’t focus on him too much and put too much pressure on the fact he has come back to the club. I’m looking forward to playing with him again.
“Cole has come in and I don’t know much about him but he has obviously done well. So it will be good to see what he is about over the next few weeks.”
Regardless of recruits, Hearts’ intentions for 2017/18 are clear.
“We need to finish in that European place,” stressed Cowie. “A club like us needs to be challenging for that but, if we’re being honest, we need to do better in the cups. We need to get to the latter stages, whether it’s semi-finals or finals. It’s important that we do that just to get that feeling of a winning mentality and challenging for things. That’s where we should be as a club.”