Hearts: Why it makes sense for Robbie Neilson to re-integrate Loic Damour
It was the last time the club played a top-flight match. It was the last time the team played a competitive fixture in front of fans. And it was the last time Loic Damour pulled on the maroon jersey for a meaningful match.
Between then and now there has been a world pandemic, two lockdowns, demotions and promotions and Scotland even qualified for an international competition.
For the French midfielder though, it has been a tough 16 months.
He had to contend with injury issues during pre-season last year and through most of the first half of the Championship-winning campaign. Then he was effectively up for sale in January, with manager Robbie Neilson noting it wouldn’t “be too hard for us to negotiate it and try to get him out and get him playing because he hasn’t been involved”.
With no move forthcoming, Damour trained with the youngsters as 31 others played first-team football during the season.
His name, however, has raised the most eyebrows amongst the Hearts support so far this pre-season. The team have played three warm-up matches, with Damour impressing in two of them.
Neilson’s stance is similar to this time last year.
"He didn’t get the game time he wanted last year but he’s a Hearts player,” he told the Evening News. “He has come back in good condition and has been working hard.”
There will be some fans scratching their head at Damour’s return and tempering any excitement or anticipation by noting the level of opposition: Linlithgow Rose and Spartans, the midfielder netting against the latter.
After all, the 29-year-old failed to deliver in his first year at the club. His performances weren’t of the standard you would expect of someone handed a lucrative four-year deal and a decent enough reputation in England.
New season, new chance
It is easy, and understandable, to write him off as a dud. With football there is little nuance, it is largely black or white.
But circumstances can change in football and change quickly.
A new season, a new chance, perhaps a new mindset.
Yes, it may only have been Linlithgow and Spartans but he has got to start somewhere. They could well be confidence builders on the way to rediscovering his way.
With two years left on his deal, what's the point in letting the player stew with the youngsters in the hope a club comes in for him.
Why not try to utilise the qualities he has to offer.
“Loic is a tenacious tackler,” his former Cardiff City boss Neil Warnock told the Evening News. “Put him in the right position and he can destroy anything.
“He is versatile and can play in a lot of positions in midfield.
“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.”
Those are traits which can be hugely beneficial in Scottish football.
It is down to the player to continue to show it in pre-season to give himself a chance to take it into competitive action.
The resurrection of Loic Damour may well be one of the surprise stories of the season.