SPL

Scouting Rangers Target Jamie Walker

 • by Frank Smith
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Jamie Walker is one among many on an extensive list of Rangers transfer targets. The Scottish giants are seeking to reinforce their squad this summer in a bid to catch up with reigning champions and city rivals Celtic, and domestic talent is clearly on their radar.

Thus far, manager Pedro Caixinha appears to have focused primarily on signing players from countries he formerly lived or worked in.

He has already added three Portuguese players to the squad in the form of towering central defender Bruno Alves and promising 23-year-old stopper Fábio Cardoso, as well as winger Dálcio from Benfica. The Rangers boss also looks set to return to Mexico, where he previously worked, in an attempt to bring in attack-minded midfielder Carlos Peña and centre-forward Eduardo Herrera.

However, Caixinha hasn’t forgotten to consider Scottish players. Indeed, defensive midfielder Ryan Jack has already joined on a free transfer from Aberdeen, and Walker may well follow him to Ibrox in the coming weeks.

Jamie Walker: The Basics

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Born and raised in Edinburgh, Walker joined Heart of Midlothian’s academy in 2003. Making his way through the youth system, he eventually found himself on loan in the Scottish second tier with Raith Rovers.

During that one-year spell in Fife, the attacking midfielder made his professional debut before going on to record 24 appearances and three goals in all competitions. He also worked with John McGlynn, who he would meet again upon the conclusion of his loan deal and return to the Scottish capital.

McGlynn was appointed Hearts boss ahead of the 2012/13 season and before long Walker was an important member of the Jambos’ first team. In that campaign he played 26 times, scoring twice, and thanked the manager for his help.

“The manager’s help has been massive. I was at Raith with him as well and he’s the only manager I’ve worked under,” the 23-year-old said. “He’s helped me so much in the past few months, and last year when I was on loan as well. I can’t thank him enough for that. He’s shown a lot of faith in me.”

Following poor results, McGlynn left Hearts by mutual consent in February 2013. Later that same year, serious financial difficulties led to the club entering administration, and they subsequently became increasingly reliant on youth team graduates.

Due to a 15-point deduction and the loss of several experienced players, relegation was inevitable. But with Walker leading a talented crop of prospects under new ownership in 2014/15, an immediate return was ensured.

Over the past two seasons, the player has continued to develop on an individual level, taking on a more important role within the team. In 2015/16 he notched eight goals and nine assists in 27 outings, and in 2016/17 he found the net 15 times – a career best – and set up seven for team-mates in 43 games.

The Rumours

Walker’s improvement was inevitably going to lead to covetous looks from other clubs. And, having scored twice in a 4-1 thrashing of Rangers in February – the first of which was a wonderful, curled effort from outside the penalty box – he was well known to the Ibrox management and support long before the recent rumours began.

While the player’s current contract is set to expire next summer, an earlier departure from Tynecastle seems likely. Hearts director of football Craig Levein confirmed as much per BBC Sport’s Andy Burke, saying: “Jamie said he has been here a long time and feels it is time to move on. There comes a point with every player if we get an offer that’s deemed to be acceptable then we’ll look at that. These are circumstances that happen.”

It has been reported that Rangers are keen to sign Walker and that a bid in excess of £1million would be necessary to seal a deal. However, there is also competition from down south, with Bristol City, MK Dons and Blackburn Rovers purportedly interested.

Would Walker fit in at Rangers?

As it stands, Rangers have no shortage of attacking midfielders and wingers. With Barrie McKay, Harry Forrester, Niko Kranjcar, Michael O’Halloran and the newly signed Dálcio already present within the squad, Walker’s addition would not be simply to solve any issue relating to a lack of depth.

Rather, the Hearts man would be brought in to offer a qualitative improvement on those available to Caixinha.

Last term, Walker averaged 0.3 goals per game across all competitions, which was a higher rate than that achieved by McKay (0.1), Forrester (0.1), Kranjcar (0.2) or O’Halloran (0). And he assisted 0.2 per game, which was level with McKay, Kranjcar and O’Halloran, and more than Forrester (0.1).

The player would also provide options to Rangers in several different areas of the team.

Walker is a versatile operator, one capable of hugging either the left or right touchline, playing in a more central role, or further forward just behind a striker. His ability to slot into multiple roles is a gift to coaches, who can utilise him effectively in many different ways depending on the circumstances.

With flitting movement he is an intelligent finder of space, while with his close control, technique and dribbling skill, he is also comfortable receiving between the lines, even when under pressure from opponents. He lacks pace, but his precision, composure and awareness make up for this.

Walker isn’t a typical winger. He lacks the raw pace and acceleration to win out in one-on-ones down the flanks, and prefers to move inward. From there he can be more involved and use his technical gifts to aid offensive moves. Were he to join Rangers, he would not only bolster Caixinha’s tactical options, but substantially increase the productivity of the team’s attack.

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