The club have confirmed there’s an interest in Ellis Simms, the goalscoring hero in the second half of the 2021/22 campaign, along with former St Mirren playmaker Connor Ronan and ex-Dundee United striker Lawrence Shankland. Yet there exists a £500,000 stumbling block in each case – the supposed transfer fee slapped on the heads of each of these individuals by their respective clubs. There’s also Dylan Levitt, who is reportedly available for a fee of £350,000 from Manchester United after an impressive spell at Dundee United last summer.
Being linked with these sort of names is exciting. They’re all proven at the Scottish top flight level and, with the exception of Shankland, they’re all under the age of 25. There’s a belief they will not only improve the squad but could net a handsome profit in future. This all feeds into the emotions of supporters, who are already at a heightened state of nervous energy due to the tantalising nature of the summer window, which in turn leads to impatience. ‘Only £500,000 for Connor Ronan?! Pay it!’ ‘Ellis Simms is a steal at that price!’ etc etc
Adding to such restlessness is the knowledge Hearts are coming into a bit of additional cash this summer. There’s the Aaron Hickey sell-on clause which, though not as much as initially speculated, will still net Hearts a tidy six-figure sum they wouldn’t have budgeted on getting. More importantly, there’s the guaranteed eight games in European football, which will bring in at least €2.94m in prize money alone – a fee which could rise significantly depending on Hearts’ performance in the group stages, not to mention the extra money from gate receipts, merchandising, hospitality and any other additional income which comes from having Tynecastle packed to the rafters an extra four times. The march to last season’s Scottish Cup final and sell-out games at Hampden against Hibs and Rangers will also have boosted their coffers.
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Hearts could potentially bring in £5 million over the course of this season. What’s the big deal with spending £500k or even a million to bring in a couple of players who we already know can thrive at this level? Especially when there’s another big carrot dangling at the end of next season with third place again likely to provide pathway to the group stages of European competition (cup winner dependant). We’re at a point where Hearts could really make themselves a club of bigger size and stature than anyone else outside Celtic and Rangers; regular European group-stage football, capable of shopping in their own market, and therefore giving them the means to produce a vice-like grip on the ‘best of the rest’ tag, if they play their cards right.
Football clubs, rather boringly, have to take the emotion out of situations like this. Shopping in the market is no longer just about finding good players, it’s also about finding value. Why pay half-a-million pounds for a footballer when there are countless others at the same level who could be available for nothing?
They also have to keep their feet on the ground and realise that, in football, a “sure thing” doesn’t exist. Simms was excellent on loan, but who says he’ll have the same impact after signing on a permanent deal? Football is littered with players who’ve been determined to make an impression in a time of uncertainty, but performances drop when they have the security blanket of a long-term contract. As for Ronan and Levitt, it’s all well and good impressing at St Mirren and Dundee United, but can they handle the step up in level and expectation? Tynecastle Park is a great place to play football every second weekend, but the crowd can be rather unforgiving for those who struggle. As for Shankland, his top-flight goal level (while overstated given a few contextual factors) hardly makes for promising reading.
Money should definitely be spent. They’ve got to speculate to accumulate, after all. Though Hearts would counter by saying they have been spending money on transfer targets. We don’t know how much each one cost, but there was a fee involved in the recruiting of Cammy Devlin, Nathaniel Atkinson, Kye Rowles and Toby Sibbick. Beni Baningime too was someone Hearts were willing to spend a six-figure sum on had sporting director Joe Savage not persuaded Everton to let the talented midfielder leave for nothing.
There’s a negotiation process to be played out. In an ideal world, football clubs would be honest and realistic when setting values for players. But the football world is far from an ideal one as clubs routinely overplay or underplay their hand in order to secure the best deal possible. If Beerschot or Wolves want £500k for Shankland and Ronan, respectively, then the chances are they’ll eventually accept a structured deal worth a figure around that with add-ons, or just a percentage of the initial asking price if there isn’t much interest from the rest of the market.
We’re only in the early days of July. The league season is still over three weeks away. If Hearts look like they’re going to continue to appear stingy right up to August 31 then perhaps then it’s time to panic and wonder if management have cost themselves the chance at a ‘third force’ domination. But there is plenty of time left and, by evidence of the last 12 months, the current first-team stewards appear to know what they’re doing. They certainly deserve the benefit of the doubt for the time being.