Olly Lee aiming for new start at Hearts after Craig Levein disagreement

Midfielder’s Tynecastle contract runs till 2021

By Barry Anderson
Friday, 24th April 2020, 7:40 am
Olly Lee has one year left on his Hearts contract.
Olly Lee has one year left on his Hearts contract.

Famous in Edinburgh for a breathtaking winner at Easter Road, Olly Lee faces the challenge of trying to breathe new life into his Hearts career when football resumes. His three-year contract enters its final 12 months this summer and he has yet to play or even train under the club's current manager, Daniel Stendel.

Lee spent all of last season on loan at the English League One club Gillingham. He enjoyed a positive start after joining Hearts in 2018, scoring a stunning winning goal away at Edinburgh rivals Hibs that December. He then fell out of favour after a disagreement with former manager Craig Levein and injured his knee before the Scottish Cup final.

Now 28, the English midfielder may get a second chance this summer. That depends on many variables. Will Hearts still want him? What league will they be playing in? Will they be able to afford to keep him? Will Stendel still be there? Will coronavirus be sufficiently under control to play football by then?

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The worldwide disease is responsible for huge uncertainty in all walks of life, but Lee at least has the assurance of another year on his agreement. He is not quite the forgotten man of Gorgie, but certainly a marginalised one since departing for Kent last August.

The Gillingham manager, Glasgow-born Steve Evans, would happily take him back if he is deemed surplus to Hearts' requirements. After a year of regular competitive football, the player's immediate assignment is to attempt to re-establish himself at Tynecastle Park.

"He has another year there and Olly's intention is to report back when Hearts go back," Evans told the Evening News. "Hopefully there is more football to be played this season but, if not, he will go back and try to convince the people at Hearts he is worthy of playing next season.

"Olly and I sat many times and spoke about Heart of Midlothian, the size of it, the opportunity, playing at Tynecastle when it's packed, the atmosphere. As a manager over the years, especially during my time at Leeds, I was often at Tynecastle.

"You are watching games and then you appreciate what it's all about. I think Olly certainly did. He went up there and loved it. I wouldn't say he was broken, but he was very down when Craig made it clear he wasn't going to figure going forward.

"It was very easy for us to get him to love football again. We all know footballers, when they aren't playing, things are not as good at home as they should be because they live for football as well as their families. We got Olly back playing and everything seemed a lot happier."

He scored six goals in 34 appearances for Gillingham before football's shutdown last month. The loan agreement was initially due to expire in January but both clubs agreed to extend it until the end of the campaign.

"He started 90 per cent of the games for us and he's a good player, as you've seen in his first year in Scotland," said Evans. "He is technically great, he gets into little pockets and he can execute a finish. I like the kid as a player. I don't think he's spoken to Daniel, but I might be wrong.

"If he is going back to Hearts, his first conversation will be with Daniel if he is still there. They will need to sit down and talk about whether he gets an equal chance. I think Olly is of the view that, if he gets an equal chance, he will take it. Or, he might be getting told he doesn't fit the picture. It's just down to whoever the manager is."

Evans watches Hearts and a number of other Scottish clubs closely to monitor players who may become available, either via loan deals or transfers. He knows the Tynecastle support took to Lee quickly two years ago and believes the Englishman can recapture their affection.

"Nobody is going to be as match-fit as they would want because of this break," acknowledged Evans. "After the run of games Olly has had with us, I think he can go back there and play.

"I look at Hearts' squad and they've got some exceptional players, but I don't see any reason why Olly Lee can't play in that team every week. I just don't see it - although I'm not watching every day in training."

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