The Evening News revealed earlier this week that talks had taken place between Hearts officials and Neilson as his United contract expired. The 19-year-old defender quickly agreed terms to join Alan Forrest and Kye Rowles as new recruits for next season.
Hearts are adamant they are not due United any development fee for Neilson. However, the Tayside club could decide to dispute that issue. The controversy surrounds the timing of a new deal United offered the player earlier this year, and whether it was lodged in time to protect their right to training compensation.
Robbie Neilson, the Hearts manager, worked briefly with his younger namesake whilst manager at Tannadice and is eager to see him develop in Edinburgh.
“Lewis is someone I’ve known for a while as he was coming through the ranks at Dundee United when I was manager there,” Neilson told his club’s website. “Even back then you could see his potential and he’s continued to improve, so I'm delighted that we’ve been able to bring him to Hearts.
“He’s a very quick and strong player with all the attributes needed to make it at the top level, and I’m sure Hearts will provide the perfect environment for Lewis to work hard, develop and take his career forward.”
Hearts sporting director Joe Savage added: “We were interested in Lewis as soon as we heard there was a chance he might not renew his contract at Dundee United.
“To get him on a free transfer is great business from our perspective. We're overwhelmed by it At the age he is, with a chance to develop him further. Robbie and his coaching staff raved about him. He's someone that Robbie thinks is very good and that we can make him into an even better player,
“It's good to go down the route of attracting young Scottish players. It shows we're committed to our roots of developing footballers. We've done Alan Forrest, and now we've done that with Lewis. We're delighted.”
Neilson said the chance to work with his former manager at Hearts influenced his decision. “As soon as I heard that Hearts were interested, it was top of the list for me. A massive club looking ahead to European football that had a great season last year,” he explained.
“I’d been at Tannadice for the last ten years and I owe a lot to them. I just felt it was time to move on and make the next step. After speaking to Joe Savage and Robbie Neilson, I knew this was the right place.
“When I first came into the pro set up at United, Robbie quickly brought me and Chris Mochrie up into the first team. I got to train every day and he gave me my first taste of first-team football by putting me on the bench.
“I made my debut against St. Johnstone when I was 17, played ten times in my first season. I was a midfielder through my academy days but I think Robbie liked the look of me at centre-back. He moved me there and I’ve loved it ever since.”