One piece of transfer business is considered an absolute priority by Hearts fans this summer.
The return of winger David Milinkovic to Tynecastle is desired badly. John Colquhoun, a man who knows a little about Hearts wingers, believes it would invigorate the entire support base.
Milinkovic is on loan from the Italian club Genoa until the end of the month and is firmly a hero amongst Gorgie natives. His work ethic and goals have endeared him to supporters during a difficult and unpredictable campaign. It is currently unclear if he will return for pre-season training, however.
The Hearts manager Craig Levein identified the 23-year-old as one of four loanees he wants to retain, either on a permanent deal or another loan. Talks with Genoa will take place at the end of the campaign, with the aim being to bring Milinkovic back in Edinburgh by mid-June.
Colquhoun knows the value of driving those discussions to a successful conclusion. “It would really surprise me if the club weren’t pulling out all the stops to try and keep Milinkovic,” he told the Evening News. “I get that he’s unpredictable, but he’s a winger and he’s still young. If you find me a consistent winger then please let me know because I can sell him to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Man United or Man City. It’s kind of an oxymoron, a consistent winger.
“I think it’s possible [he could stay]. Milinkovic is certainly somebody who excites the fans. He’s got the most useful commodity in football at the moment, which is pace. He also has a bit of flair which Hearts desperately need right now. When he plays, the whole place gets a lift.
“I think he genuinely loves the club. He took his lad to one of the Hearts academy training camps and the kid is a decent player as well. It shows you how invested he is in the club that he wanted his boy to go to one of the camps.”
Instagram videos proclaiming his dislike of Hibs do Milinkovic no harm when it comes to gaining admiration from the Hearts support. Their team are sixth in the Premiership and on a run of only two wins in ten matches, so a signing spur would be well received.
“Absolutely, it would boost the fans and they’re looking for a boost,” said Colquhoun. “The signings made so far are like building blocks but the fans want something that excites them – to give them a “wow” factor. Milinkovic does that. They love him because he gets them off their seats. That’s really difficult to find.
“Whether you’re Hearts, Man United or Ayr United, it’s difficult to get players in the building. There is so much work which has to go in and people don’t understand that. People who work inside football clubs understand it. So many people are in the market for players.
“At Hearts’ level it is hard. The club is being run fantastically on a sound financial basis. You can’t just go out and spend ridiculous amounts of money on flair players. You need to go and dig the diamonds out and I think they’ve found a little diamond in Milinkovic. I reckon they will be doing their very best to try and keep him.”
Milinkovic’s standout performances have unquestionably been at Tynecastle. Most notably against this weekend’s opponents, Celtic. He scored twice in December as the Premiership champions’ unbeaten run ended after 69 games with a 4-0 defeat in Edinburgh.
Most recently, he again etched his name on the scoresheet against Aberdeen last month before a knee injury took hold. It leaves him touch-and-go to face Celtic again on Sunday. “Like all wingers, he prefers home comforts. I had most of my best games for Hearts at Tynecastle because the crowd fed off me and I fed off the crowd,” explained Colquhoun.
“That’s true with wingers. That’s why it’s difficult for wingers like him to go and do it away from home at times. You hug that touchline and you feel the love at Tynecastle, whereas you don’t elsewhere.”
Colquhoun is confident Milinkovic’s displays away from home will improve. “He’s young and he’ll learn that. In my first season at Hearts, probably 75 per cent of my better games were at Tynecastle. Gradually, you learn more about the game. The coach gets a hold of you and tells you what he expects – in possession and out of possession.
“He has come from a different culture, don’t forget. Players come from different countries, different football and different mindsets. Why do we expect foreigners to come straight in and deal with the league, culture, food, television, weather, stadiums, everything? People say: ‘He’s a footballer. He should be able to do it.’ Why? It takes time.
“For wingers, it’s about moments. They aren’t going to give you 90 minutes of brilliance, especially away from home. You just don’t have the ball enough to do that. If Milinkovic can learn to play in a shape Hearts work on over the summer, he’ll have more impact away from home.
“He will improve. He’s not stupid and he’s not scared of hard work. His work rate is terrific. You don’t want to be going back the way and tracking back as a winger. That’s the ugly side of the game but they’ve all got to do it now. It’s a learned skill and Milinkovic can learn that.
“If he doesn’t, he won’t play. He looks like a lad who loves playing so I think he will take that on board if Hearts can keep a hold of him. He can be an asset. Then he will produce the moments, that run which beats three or four men.”
Hearts fans adore their cult heroes: Drew Busby, Wayne Foster, Phil Stamp, Suso Santana and more. David Milinkovic’s name has joined that list regardless whether he stays or goes.