Goals, assists and creativity: Jamie Walker is the ideal man to get Hearts pumping
Chastised for lacking creativity last season, Hearts’ move to bring Jamie Walker home from Wigan Athletic ticks an almighty box.
Goals, assists, knowledge of the club and a desire to revive his career make him an ideal candidate to inject the necessary flair.
Walker is spending his 26th birthday today trying to finalise a release from Wigan 12 months before his contract ends. He left Hearts in January 2018 after 14 years but is out of favour at the DW Stadium and desperate to return to his native Edinburgh. Barring an unexpected hitch, he will rejoin his formative club on a long-term contract. It is a signing to intrigue supporters but, most importantly, to have defenders across Scotland shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
Adam Eckersley played with and against Walker during spells at Hearts and St Mirren. He believes the forward’s impending return to Tynecastle is precisely what is required. “He is a player Hearts have been needing,” said the left-back, now with Airdrie. “The fans know what he is all about. They’ve watched him in action for years and they know he is a good fit for that team.
“I see it only as a positive move. It can only be a good thing for Hearts. I think Jamie can take them to the next level. When I was there [in 2014/15], he was a young lad who was very creative. He could score goals and create them if you play him in the right position. If you play him just behind the striker, I felt that was his best role. He could link up with the striker and play through balls. He is a very clever player.
“When I played against him, he was somebody you had to keep an eye on. He’s got quality and I think he will bring a lot to Hearts. It’s a player they are missing at the moment, someone creative who can make something out of nothing. Jamie is that type of player.”
Time will tell whether Hearts manager Craig Levein continues using the 4-3-3 formation which featured to good effect in the final two games of last season against Celtic. A front three with Walker and Steven Naismith flanking Uche Ikpeazu would definitely get fans’ mouths watering.
Of course, a move back north would not be on the agenda had Walker made the intended impact in England. He has only nine Wigan appearances since they bought him from Hearts in January 2018. Just two are from the start, but injuries have not helped. A loan to Peterborough United brought 17 games last year before knee surgery ended his season prematurely.
“It’s a tough world in England,” said Eckerlsey, formerly of Manchester United, Barnsley and Port Vale. “It’s such a huge pool of players and the money is different. You have to hit the ground running down there and, for some players, that doesn’t happen.
“It hasn’t happened for Jamie. You do a lot of travelling in the English leagues. You’re away from your family, training all the time and you have an awful lot of games. It takes its toll. If he comes back up here, he would be back near his family which eases the pressure off the field.
“People might think: ‘What’s the got to do with anything?’ Well, from someone who has travelled around a lot, it makes a huge difference. It eases the stresses compared to being down in England, looking after kids, doing school runs and all the rest of it. If you have a bit of help from family, it takes the pressure off a little bit.”
For those who will perceive Walker as a failure in England, some perspective is required. “I know how fans look at football but some clubs pay £50million for players these days, and they go to their new club and fail,” said Eckersley. “It’s a mystery sometimes why it doesn’t work out but everybody is different.”
Rejoining Hearts could help Walker rekindle both form and fitness. Right now, he needs them as much as they need someone like him.