BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HEARTS manager Craig Levein has conceded that Jamie Walker could leave Tynecastle next month but is adamant he has no concerns about pitching the playmaker into Edinburgh derby action against Hibernian.
The 24-year-old is out of contract at the end of this season and has already made it clear that he will not renew his deal, meaning the capital club are open to offers for the player in January.
Rangers remain long-time admirers of Walker and saw three separate bids turned down last summer, with the final effort coming in at £600,000 with a staggered payment plan.
Wigan Athletic are reportedly keen to test Hearts resolve with a £300,000 bid.
“Jamie has been brilliant,” lauded Levein. “He’s going to leave, we’ve discussed that with him. That was good for me to know. We had a fairly straightforward conversation. He might leave in January, or he might leave in the summer. These things are always part of any decision making.
“We did attempt to ask him to stay, but I get everything he’s saying. I’m quite relaxed about the whole thing.
“We’ve had a number of players who have kind of gone through the same process – Callum Paterson, Sam Nicolson, and now Jamie. These guys have been here a long time, and they’ve been here through a period of some real dark times as well.
“In a football career it’s very rare these days a player will stick around foe a significant period of time. Jamie’s probably the last of these guys who came through – and he’s not a kid any more. I’m just happy he’s focused and he’s playing well.
Levein acknowledges that Walker was effected by speculation regarding his future at the start of the season, with his focus and form wavering, however he has no similar fears ahead of Wednesday’s mouth-watering clash between the Edinburgh foes.
“Initially he had to get over disappointment. A lot of stuff that was going around in the summer didn’t help him, he thought he was going somewhere, he didn’t get to go. People were telling him things that were going to happen – definitely – and they didn’t.
“They are becoming things players have to deal with on a regular basis these days, but I’m not worried about him in these circumstances.”
Walker and co. will be charged with arresting Hearts dismal derby-day record of late, which has seen them fail to register a win in their last eight outings against the men from Leith. A 2-1 win in the Championship in 2014 courtesy of goals from Sam Nicholson and Prince Buaben was their last victory.
The frustration of supporters were underlined at the club’s AGM last Tuesday when Levein was asked when the Jambos would stop ‘being bullied’ in the fixture.
“I think it’s about being competitive and being in the game the whole time,” added Levein. “We are at home and recently at home we’ve done okay at Tynecastle. I don’t know who the exact personnel will be, but my first response is ‘we won’t be bullied’.”