Hearts to welcome Yutaro Oda after talks with Garang Kuol and push to sign Callum Paterson
Riccarton was a hive of activity on Thursday as Hearts’ January recruitment drive gathered pace. Newcastle United’s teenage striker Garang Kuol arrived for a tour of facilities whilst the first team trained, and club officials prepared to welcome Japanese forward Yutaro Oda as a new signing.
Negotiations continued regarding Callum Paterson as Hearts wait to discover whether Sheffield Wednesday will facilitate his return to Tynecastle Park this month. Plus the hunt is on for an extra centre-back following Craig Halkett’s season-ending injury. It’s all happening just a few days into the winter transfer window with euphoria still fresh following Monday’s New Year Edinburgh derby win against Hibs. You need only saunter down a corridor at the club’s training base to detect the prosperity.
Hearts travel to St Mirren on Saturday having garnered ten points from 12 since the cinch Premiership resumed from its World Cup hiatus. By then, there could be at least one new signing confirmed. Oda, the 21-year-old Vissel Kobe attacker, now has the relevant paperwork in place to complete a move to Edinburgh. Manager Robbie Neilson expects him in the country in a matter of days.
“Hopefully Oda will be here in the next couple of days, everything's done,” he confirmed before admitting that the move for Paterson is rather less straightforward. “With Callum, the clubs are talking and we'll just wait and see. His contract's up at the end of the season so there's got to be negotiation between the clubs. We'd like to get him here, though.”
Kuol strolled through the Oriam Scotland complex front door mid-morning as Neilson and the Hearts squad trained out the back. Accompanied by the Tynecastle sporting director Joe Savage, Newcastle’s loan manager Shola Ameobi and an agent, the 18-year-old seemed to take the situation in his stride. Reading are just one of several English clubs competing to capture him on loan, although Hearts do hold a slight advantage over the player’s other suitors.
Kuol played twice for Australia at the World Cup and is therefore well acquainted with the other Socceroos in Gorgie, Kye Rowles, Cammy Devlin and Nathaniel Atkinson. He and Rowles were club colleagues at Central Coast Mariners last year. “He just came up for a look around and to have a chat with him. He’s one we’re very interested in but he’s got a lot of suitors and a lot of teams want him down in England,” said Neilson.
“We asked to speak to him and thankfully he came up with his agent. We put on a presentation and gave him a pitch and hopefully it’s enough to get him here. But it’ll be tough to get him here.” Asked if Kuol is also visiting other clubs, Neilson replied: “Yes, he is.” He went on to discuss the selling points he hopes will persuade the youngster to choose Hearts.
“I think there’s a lot. Firstly, we’ve got three Aussies here already who he knows, and one he’s played with for a number of years. Kye played with him but probably Devlin's a bit closer to him and he's been speaking to him but ultimately it'll be Newcastle and the player that'll decide.
“We’re an hour and a half from Newcastle, we’ve got brilliant facilities, he’ll be playing in big games week in and week out. So there’s a lot of positives for him, but there’s also other teams who will have positives as well. We asked to speak to him, they’ve allowed us to do it and hopefully we can get it done. But I think it’s going to be tough. I don’t know who else is after him but I know there’s quite a lot of teams they’re talking to.”
A central defender is a priority to fill Halkett’s place in the squad. “Yes, we're looking to bring someone in. We've got a couple of targets we're looking at so we'll see how that goes,” confirmed Neilson. “We've probably got about 18 good players, so if we get injuries we've got guys that come in and still win you football matches. The guys that have come in have tried to do that. We'll strengthen in January, we'll strengthen in the summer and that's the process.”
While some would consider the loss of Halkett and captain Craig Gordon until next season as major blows, Neilson is content enough that Hearts’ squad has sufficient cover to cope. “Injuries are injuries. We lose Craig Gordon and bring in Zander Clark who's an international. We lost Craig Halkett and we've got Rowles, Sibbick, Neilson. Striker-wise we've got Shanks [Lawrence Shankland], that's just part of football. We've been unlucky with injuries but the majority of them have been contact injuries which you can't really do much about. We just need to keep digging away.”
The on-loan Wigan Athletic forward Stephen Humphrys announced his return from injury with the final goal in Monday’s 3-0 victory over Hibs. It was his third goal in maroon since agreeing the season-long move back in August. However, Hearts must hope that he gets to see the deal out as Wigan have a clause allowing them to recall Humphrys this month if they wish.
Many Tynecastle supporters are eager to see Humphrys’ loan converted into a permanent transfer, but for the moment that seems some way off. When asked if there had been any attempts to sign the player from Wigan, Neilson gave a philosophical response. “He’s got 18 months left at Wigan so it’s not something we would do just now, but potentially in the summer we might look at that. Wigan have an option to take him back this month so we’re waiting to see about that. It’s not in our hands. We’re desperate to keep him and I know Stephen’s desperate to stay here but ultimately the parent club have the power.”