Pound signs in the eyes of Ann Budge, Craig Levein and Robbie Neilson. A player jetting out of Edinburgh Airport for a lucrative transfer after reviving his career at Tynecastle. A lump sum of cash to reinvest in first-team players and youth academy. This is exactly how things were meant to be at Hearts.
Drawing up a blueprint for the club’s revival in May 2014, Budge, Levein and Neilson planned it exactly this way. Sign player for free, play him and develop him, sell on at profit a year or two later. Osman Sow’s impending transfer to cash-rich Henan Jianye in China earns the club a tidy £1m-plus. It is the identikit deal Hearts intended all along.
Granted, even they would have been stunned receiving a fax offering a seven-figure sum for a player who is a free agent in six months. Sow’s Hearts contract expires in the summer, he is 6ft 4in tall, deceptively quick with an eye for goal. It is no wonder he is a wanted man, but a fee exceeding £1m is verging on fantasy money when he could have signed a pre-contract agreement.
It is very real to those running Hearts, though. The sign-develop-sell model will be repeated in the future, although they may toil to better the deal taking Sow to Asia. The Swede’s move is one neither he nor Hearts could refuse.
“It’s really good business for Hearts,” said George Foulkes, the former Tynecastle chairman and season ticket holder. “It shows we’re that kind of club now, instead of one that other clubs can take a loan of by getting players cheap. We’re now able to build them up and make a bit of money on them.
“Sow will be missed because he was very well thought of. You’ve heard the chants the fans give him regularly. He was a popular figure at Tynecastle so I’m sorry to see him go from that point of view. It allows us to strengthen the squad, though. All credit to the management for getting that kind of money for someone who has been with us for a relatively short time.”
Sow arrived in Scotland as a free agent in July 2014 after leaving Crystal Palace. He scored 12 times in an injury-interrupted campaign last year as Hearts won the Scottish Championship title. This season, his progress accelerated in the top flight and he leaves with 11 goals in 27 appearances in all competitions.
“It will be difficult to replace him, but not impossible,” continued Foulkes. “Some of the other players are coming on and improving. Gavin Reilly, for example, is looking a bit more like the finished article. He’s always had pace but he’s sharper and there’s more punch to him now.”
Reilly, Juanma and Dauda will compete for places up front, starting on Sunday in a greatly anticipated Edinburgh derby. New signing Don Cowie will also hope to make his debut after signing on at Tynecastle yesterday. The 32-year-old Cowie was released by Wigan on Friday and finds himself reunited with Levein, the man who gave him eight of his ten Scotland caps.
“That’s one of the benefits of having Craig as director of football,” said Foulkes. “He’s been around and he’s seen players all over the UK and beyond. He knows a lot of them and it’s very useful for Hearts to have that knowledge. I think Don Cowie is a quality player. To be fair to the management, Craig and Robbie in particular, they’ve brought players in before and people have been a bit sceptical about them to begin with. These guys have mostly turned out to be good players. They haven’t got many wrong so I would put my faith in them.”
The departures of Morgaro Gomis and Billy King on loan to Motherwell and Rangers respectively is also part of a long-term plan. Another midfielder, Danny Swanson, was released last night and hopes to join St Johnstone. Neilson has openly stated that players desiring more game time will be allowed to leave Tynecastle, either on loan or permanently. All of the above were frustrated by the amount of time spent sitting on the substitutes’ bench.
“Morgaro wants to play regularly and that was the same with Billy King. I can understand that line of thought,” commented Foulkes. “It’s encouraging to let players have an opportunity to go on loan and play more often. Billy and Morgaro haven’t been playing as much as they would maybe want at Tynecastle so it’s good for them to get playing.
“If they’re on loan then they can come back in the summer. Regarding Billy, we have players who are similar to him in Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker. Jamie is back from his injury now and likely to play on Sunday, so with them both fit I think people won’t be as worried. Fans would have been worried if we didn’t have players of that quality ready to take over.”
So, everything seems to be going according to plan at Riccarton. With Walker and Nicholson fit, Cowie, Dauda and John Souttar signed, plus Sow, Gomis, Swanson and King gone, are Hearts ready for Sunday and the visit of their Edinburgh rivals? “I think, overall, it’s been a positive transfer window,” exclaimed Foulkes. “I’m feeling chuffed and I’m looking forward to Sunday now. I’m one of the lucky ones who has a ticket for Tynecastle and I can’t wait for it.”