Hearts manager Craig Levein admits Jamie Walker could already be planning a January departure – and has no idea whether the influential playmaker will remain at Tynecastle for the second half of the season.
Levein revealed that the 24-year-old, who was rated at £1 million during the summer after Rangers had three bids rejected, has been free to speak to potential suitors since the start of December after entering the final six months of his deal.
Hearts fans will get a taste of life post-Walker when Dundee visit tonight after the attacking midfielder was ruled of of the clash with a niggling hamstring strain.
Levein has been delighted with Walker’s recent form after claiming that the ‘penny has dropped’ but is well aware that the player is already entitled to sign a pre-contract elsewhere.
Levein said: “Contracts in Scotland end in May so Jamie has been eligible, or whatever you want to call if, to speak to clubs since the start of December.
“That’s just the way it is. We should be contacted by the club if he is speaking to anybody as a matter of courtesy but it doesn’t always happen.
“My main point with him is that I’ve been really pleased with his attitude and his focus. I think he’s got himself in a good place just now so that’s why I’m disappointed he has this hamstring problem. I don’t think it’s anything serious and I’m hoping he’ll be available for the Celtic game.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, whether he’ll leave in January or stay until the end of the season.
“We’ve had conversations but that’s not for public consumption.
“It’s hard to project what decisions we’re going to make based on something that might happen.”
Although Walker has only notched two goals during an injury-interrupted campaign, Levein insists the Edinburgh-born forward has become a more complete player.
He added: “I’m happy with what he is doing on the field and what he is going on the training field and I think the penny is dropped. He’s doing exceptionally well.
“Jamie has been really good, he has changed his game slightly that he is much more diligent with his defensive work and that’s helped us a fair bit.
“It’s probably been slightly to the detriment of his goal scoring.
“He’s had opportunities but not been quite as clinical as he has been.
“I think his overall game, provided he’s continuing to do the things he’s doing, will improve and if we do better things round about him then it will give him more opportunities to create and score goals.”
Levein took a thinly-veiled swipe at Rangers in September when he claimed that ‘a lot of the promises that were made to Walker weren’t kept’ and the former Scotland boss has been delighted with his attitude amid speculation over his future.
He added: “He is serious now, I think, about his football and somebody is going to get a good player.
“It happens. Some players are serious from the first moment they play football.
“Others go through life and then, at some point, something switches in their head and they say: “Hold on, I’d better focus a bit more – and take football more seriously.”
“It’s just age sometimes. Getting married. A kid being born. Some level of responsibility.
“I do feel that Jamie has had a tough year, with everything that has happened to him.
“But that has actually focused him – and now he’s in a good place.
“All credit to him for that. He’s been really good.”