Inside story: Why Hearts switched signing targets from Walsall's Elijah Adebayo to Frenchman Armand Gnanduillet

Armand Gnanduillet is Hearts' new No.9. Pic: Heart of Midlothian FCArmand Gnanduillet is Hearts' new No.9. Pic: Heart of Midlothian FC
Armand Gnanduillet is Hearts' new No.9. Pic: Heart of Midlothian FC
A change of direction over the weekend unexpectedly brought a French striker to Tynecastle Park instead of a not-dissimilar Englishman.

Hearts signed Armand Gnanduillet on an 18-month contract after giving up on Walsall’s Elijah Adebayo. Both players are 6ft 4ins tall and built like a vending machine, but there was only room for one such unit in Robbie Neilson’s squad.

The names of 28-year-old Gnanduillet and 23-year-old Adebayo were on Hearts’ list of transfer targets from the start of their January recruitment plan.

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Tynecastle officials first called Gnanduillet’s agent shortly after the striker’s exit from Turkish club Altay in December.

The chats were cordial but the Edinburgh club felt the Frenchman’s wage expectations were beyond their budget. After scoring 18 goals in 36 games for Blackpool last season, he wanted a salary outwith the reach of any Scottish club except Rangers and Celtic.

Aware that a number of English Championship teams were also interested in the 28-year-old free agent, Hearts decided it wasn’t worth pursuing. Their attentions quickly switched to Adebayo.

He is out of contract at Walsall this summer and therefore entitled to talk to other interested clubs as of January 1. Hearts made their pitch – as first revealed by the Evening News – and the forward verbally agreed to come to Scotland, but Walsall had other ideas.

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They did not want to lose an ever-improving forward in the middle of the season whilst aiming for the play-off places in England’s League Two.

Hearts’ initial approach was rejected, they were publicly criticised by the Walsall manager Darrell Clarke for their handling of the situation, leading Neilson to call Clarke and “explain the rules” on cross-border transfers.

A change in FIFA’s transfer laws further complicated the matter. Any club signing Adebayo before the end of 2021 must pay a development fee of more than £100,000 even after his Walsall deal expires.

Previously, the compensation would only have applied until the summer. So Hearts knew any pre-contract agreement would see them liable for a considerable sum.

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One last push from the Edinburgh club over the weekend confirmed that Walsall’s resistance to a quick transfer this month would not weaken. They were determined to keep Adebayo.

The risk for Neilson and Joe Savage, Hearts’ sporting director, was persevering so long trying to get Adebayo that they miss out on a striker altogether.

They decided to change tack on Sunday. The need for a new target man to bring a different dimension to their attack was becoming more pressing by the day and there was only one week left until the end of the January transfer window.

After a chat with Gnanduillet’s representatives, their interest was revived as it became clear the Frenchman would be interested in a move to Scotland.

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He was driven from the north of England to Edinburgh on Monday morning, completed a medical examination and had a necessary Covid-19 test.

After posing for photos at Tynecastle Park, he was announced as Hearts’ new No.9. A debut could come at Raith Rovers on Tuesday night if international clearance is through.

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