Why it makes sense
For the club
Off the back of their terrific finish to 2013/14, Hearts fans truly believe that this young team already has what it takes to make an immediate return to the top flight. However, the Championship is still unknown territory and it makes sense to at least pick up one player who will be familiar with the opposition.
When playing through the centre Keatings proved himself to be a very capable goalscorer at the second tier level. Furthermore, he fits right in with the new ethos Robbie Neilson and Craig Levein have in mind for the future of Hearts. The former has been on the record as stating the club are looking for young and eager players who will play a fast tempo brand of football where they’ll be pressing the opposition high up the park and moving the play swiftly when they get the ball. Keatings fits that to a tee. He’s quick and direct and will do the work outside of the area needed to make that kind of philosophy work.
For the player
He started his career at Celtic and, with no offence to Hamilton, he now moves back up the career ladder. Sure it is better playing in the Premiership, but being part of a possible three-man strike-force battling for one position on the top flight’s smallest team isn’t necessarily better than playing in front of 14,000 every week just because the former reality exists in a higher division. The Championship’s TV coverage will broadcast a number of Hearts games next season and staying in an environment where he’s comfortable can really boost his reputation. Besides, even with their new stringent approach to football finances, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest he’s getting more wages at Tynecastle than he was at New Douglas Park.
The improvement from Keatings’s personal perspective may not come exclusively to factors off the park. He showed a lot of promise in the opening half of last season before injury temporarily put a halt to Hamilton’s promotion hopes. When his return to peak fitness was slow his former club went out and acquired Jason Scotland. It would prove to be a promotion winning decision from the club’s point of view, though it did leave Keatings without a natural place in the team. Trying to get as many of his best players in the side at one time, manager Alex Neil used him on the left of midfield – a position which may have suited some of Keatings’s talents, but one which left the natural striker slightly disillusioned with his role in the squad. Hearts have Jamie Walker, David Smith, Sam Nicholson and Billy King fighting over the two wing positions with only Dale Carrick as a natural senior striker. If Keatings plays it will likely be through the centre.
Why it doesn’t
For the player
Hang on a minute! Didn’t Keatings just win promotion to the top division? His profile may be higher as a 15 goal scorer at Hearts than hitting the same figure with Hamilton, but isn’t football supposed to be about playing at the highest level? We’ve ripped a few players for stepping down to play for Rangers. Wouldn’t it be fair to do the same with someone joining Hearts? Sure it’s only one level – and technically, Keatings isn’t actually stepping down – but with Rangers and Hibs also in the division there is no guarantee that by the time his contract expires in 2016 Hearts will be back in the Premiership. For instance, Rangers may beat them to the title this year, Hibs could get their act together and pip them the year after, and they it’s quite possible they could suffer two successive heartbreaks in the playoffs. Should such a scenario occur then Keatings will potentially be a free agent with no top flight experience at the age of 24. That would be a bleak outlook indeed.
Is Keatings even guaranteed a start? Mentioned earlier was the abundance of riches that Hearts have on the wings. Well there’s a similar situation developing with the forwards, particularly if Neilson decides to go with one natural striker for any sustained period this season. Osman Sow, Soufian El Hassnaoui, Dale Carrick, Keatings and youngster Gary Oliver are all in contention for a place up front. Hamilton wasn’t a great situation to be in for Keatings because he had Antonie-Curier and Scotland to battle it out with. The competition has just doubled!
For the club
It depends on what they are expecting from Oliver. He’s played quite a bit in pre-season but that may just be a little reward and encouragement before sending him back down to the under-20s. With El Hassnaoui already injured it leaves three forwards battling it out, which is pretty much exactly what you need. However, to play devil’s advocate slightly, if it were five players battling it out then it does seem like Keatings may be the odd man out and prove to be an unnecessary acquisition. Carrick and Oliver are the quick dynamic players, and they have the advantage of being accustomed with the club, while El Hassnaoui and Sow add something a little different: El Hass brings technique and skill; Sow some physical qualities. In the end, will they even need Keatings with these four to pick from?