The curious case of Loic Damour: Hearts midfielder at a career crossroads after 15 months without football
When a suave-looking Frenchman arrived in Gorgie from Cardiff City in August 2019, Hearts were confident they had completed a marquee signing.
The curious case of Loic Damour makes for wretched reading, though. A midfielder with English Premier League experience strolling into Tynecastle Park rightly got supporters excited about then-manager Craig Levein’s latest piece of business. To date, Damour has made 21 appearances for Hearts. The last was 15 months ago.
Out of favour and somewhat out of luck, he wasn’t considered worth an appearance even in last season’s Scottish Championship. He remains marginalised but is also one of Hearts’ highest earners with two years remaining of a four-year contract.
Some of Damour’s performances during the 2019/20 campaign were a bone of contention for a section of Tynecastle regulars. He played in the fateful defeat at St Mirren before the Covid-enforced shutdown last March and hasn’t been seen since.
The situation is a mess needing addressed as the Edinburgh club, now managed by Robbie Neilson, prepare to return to the Premiership. It does Damour no favours to sit on the sidelines aged 30 as the peak years of his career pass him by. No-one need remind him of this, of course.
Equally, Hearts cannot afford one of their best-paid players sitting at home every Saturday and training with a youthful reserve group through the week at Riccarton. The solution would be a loan or permanent move, but his high salary is off-putting to potential suitors.
“He’s got to be playing. Loic is a lovely lad and he tends to get a bit down when he isn’t playing,” said Neil Warnock Damour’s manager at Cardiff, in an exclusive Evening News interview. “I had to put my arm around him a few times when he wasn’t involved. If he isn’t playing for Hearts, I’m surprised other clubs in Scotland aren’t after him.
Tenacity and attitude
“Loic is a tenacious tackler. Put him in the right position and he can destroy anything. You have to keep warning him to think about things, and to be careful if a card comes out. He was so up for it whenever he played.
“I think he was surprised that he got into our team but he got in because of his tenacity and his attitude. He is such a good lad and I’m surprised he hasn’t made more of an impact up there. Having said that, what can you say, really? Hearts have won the league, haven’t they?
“You can talk all you like but if you ask whether they are getting results without him, then the answer is yes. As I said, I’m surprised lesser teams haven’t had a look. Maybe Hearts could subsidise his wages a bit to get him off the books because he does need to play.”
Warnock now manages Middlesbrough and is looking for up to seven new players for next season. Damour isn’t one of them, although the Yorkshireman is convinced that the Frenchman would make a useful signing for someone either in Scotland or England.
“I’m looking at another midfielder but Loic was a good squad man for me,” he continued. “I thought of him as a lad who would play ten to 15 games a season for me. When we had problems with injuries you could look to him. Or when I needed his tackling for certain games then he would play.
“He could do a man-marking job for me as well if I asked him. He is versatile and can play in a lot of positions in midfield. The question I have about Hearts is I don’t think they every really gave him a chance further forward. He was always in a defensive midfield role when I saw him play for Hearts.
“I’d like to see him further up the pitch because he makes some good runs. The first time we lost the ball, he was the first one trying to win it back even if it was high up.”
Damour’s pedigree should be sufficient to attract new clubs. As a youth player he trained at the famous French technical institute at Clairefontaine and also represented his country at every level up to under-20. He played for Strasbourg and for Belgian clubs before sampling England’s Premier League and Championship with Cardiff.
The lack of games for more than a year leaves him drastically short of match practice. However, joining a new team now would offer enough time to work on fitness during pre-season to be ready for the campaign ahead. Hearts will not be difficult to deal with.
“I didn’t do the deal when Loic left Cardiff but if he’s on big money, he isn’t going to get that in Scotland,” stated Warnock. The player may need to wait for the English market to start moving, or potentially look to return to lower leagues in France.
Warnock admitted that England’s transfer movement is limited just now because clubs are not yet back in pre-season training. When negotiations begin in earnest, players face a reality check in terms of wages. Many EFL Championship teams are looking to pay salaries which are a third of what they were just 12 months ago.
“Everything is going to start moving in about two weeks’ time. I want six or seven players. I’ve signed one keeper so far, that’s all,” laughed Warnock. “I’m talking to everybody but haven’t got anyone signed. Players have got to be realistic because the money isn’t there like it was before.”