Lewis Neilson speaks for the first time on Hearts and Dundee United compensation fight, blocking out stick, plus English interest

It’s easy to neglect the fact that at the centre of the Hearts/Dundee United compensation wrangle is a 19-year-old kid trying to adapt to a new life.

Tuesday, 5th July 2022, 7:00 am

Lewis Neilson is a strapping brute of a boy but nonetheless still a teenager. His move from Tannadice Park to Tynecastle last month created a commotion still rumbling in the background, with United claiming Hearts owe them a development fee under FIFA rules.

The Edinburgh club believe otherwise, the uncertainty surrounding how and when Neilson’s contract extension offer was lodged by United officials. Either way, he is now a Hearts player attempting to adjust to a new club, new team-mates and new surroundings.

It is an awkward situation for one so young and Neilson’s coping mechanisms are both mature and sensible. Speaking exclusively to the Evening News, he is coy on the finer details of the dispute. His priority is football and establishing himself in a maroon shirt. Others can deal with the bureaucracy on his behalf.

“It’s nothing to do with me. I had the opportunity to come to Hearts, I had a good conversation with the gaffer and felt this was the right place for me to go and play first-team football this season. I think that’s what I need. I’m just ignoring that, it’s between the two clubs. I’m just getting on with my football.

“To be honest, I don’t really know the rules. That’s why I’ve got an agent, he’s dealing with that for me. I’m just here to play football. Whatever it is, I’m sure the clubs will sort it out between themselves.”

So far he has found it relatively easy to ignore the controversy. “When I first signed here, I maybe got stick from some of the United fans. I deleted social media for a couple of weeks, just got into training and focused on the football.

“The boys helped me settled in so it was easy enough for me to block it out. I’m not sure if there was anybody trying to get to me, especially being a young boy they might just let you off a bit. It was easy enough to ignore it.”

New Hearts defender Lewis Neilson.

Leaving United wasn’t an easy decision for a player who first joined the Tannadice youth academy aged ten. Clubs in England pursued him, United wanted to keep him, but Hearts got him.

“There was the chance to stay at United, there were a couple of other teams down south and there was Hearts,” explained Neilson. “The conversations I had with the gaffer here, Robbie Neilson, were really good. He phoned me a couple of times and explained what my role in the team would be.

“I felt I was going to be around the first team every week, we have Europe coming up and those will be great trips. I felt there were more opportunities for me to get into the Hearts first team, especially with them playing the back three. What I need is game time and playing football. That’s the main thing that will develop me at this age.

It appears Robbie Neilson has always rated his young namesake highly. “When I was 15, he was the manager who brought me up from the under-18s to the first team at United,” said Riccarton’s new recruit.

New Hearts defender Lewis Neilson made his debut during a pre-season friendly against Europa FC in Spain

“I got to train with the senior guys every day so we have that relationship. That makes it easier joining a new club. I know all the coaches very well and we have a good connection.”

Neilson’s first assignment as a Hearts player was last week’s training camp in southern Spain, which ended with a comfortable 4-0 win over Gibraltarians Europa FC. He played 90 minutes in stifling 30-degree heat and came off drained but delighted.

“It was really good. I’ve been here a couple of weeks now and got to know the boys really well. I was looking forward to getting that first game under my belt. I wasn’t expecting to play 90 minutes in the heat but it was a good run out.

“I think the boys did well. We managed to implement some stuff we had been working on during the camp so it was a good win. I didn’t mind playing the full game, I enjoyed it and it gets me more minutes in the tank. Maybe that gives me a bit of an advantage over the other boys with the games coming up.

“I got told beforehand that I would be playing 90 minutes. It was me, Connor [Smith] and Hendo [Euan Henderson] – the three young boys getting 90 minutes. I was delighted to play the full game.”

Deployed in his favourite position, right centre-back, helped with the initiation process. “Yeah, I think so. I can play right-sided centre-half in a back four as well but, in the back three, I can step in and hit diagonals. One of my main attributes is stepping forward with the ball.

“Everybody made it easy for me. Coming here, I already knew the gaffer and the coaches, Gordy [Forrest] and Jig [Lee McCulloch], from our time at Dundee United a couple of years ago. That made it a bit easier. It’s a good group of boys who made me feel really welcome. It’s been easy to settle in, especially going away to Spain.”

Next on the list is a first match at Tynecastle. “I haven’t played there before. When I came to sign, I walked out into the stadium and it’s massive,” said Neilson.

“We have sold out season tickets so it’s going to be full every week. It’s a great prospect. I’ve been on the bench there and you can hear the noise. I’m looking forward to playing in amongst that.”

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