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Andy Webster back at Hearts five years after he walked out

04 February 2011
HEARTS last night won the race to sign their former defender Andy Webster, with Hibernian among the clubs left disappointed by the player's decision to return to Tynecastle.
The move means the combatants in a long, bitter struggle prompted when the player walked out on Hearts in August 2006 with a year still left on his contract are reunited on a more amiable basis. Hearts appealed to Fifa and eventually received just £150,000 compensation from Wigan Athletic, following Webster's subsequent appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

But, having had his contract cancelled by Rangers on Monday, the centre-half had been free to negotiate his own move on this occasion.

Hearts, and in particular owner Vladimir Romanov, have been prepared to let bygones be bygones as they look to re-strengthen the squad ahead of the league run-in.

Webster, who has signed a two-and-a-half year deal, provides another option at centre-half with Ismael Bouzid currently attracting interest from other clubs. The Algerian's contract expires in the summer and Webster could in time be expected to form a defensive partnership with Tynecastle skipper Marius Zaliukas, who recently signed a new three-year deal.

Webster will first simply seek to assure the Hearts fans that he wants to play for the club again.

"I am delighted to have rejoined Hearts and am grateful to the manager and owners for giving me the chance to return to a club that means a lot to me," he said last night.

"I come back to the club that gave me the base for a successful club and international career as a more experienced player. A lot was written at the time I left and the circumstances were indeed unfortunate, but the fact I have returned to a club which means so much to me - particularly when there were opportunities at other clubs - says everything I need to say on my return. Now my entire focus is on the future and helping Hearts secure European football."

His first spell at Hearts saw him make nearly 200 appearances after being signed from Arbroath by Craig Levein. But the player's stay at Tynecastle began to sour when he was frozen out of the team by Romanov towards the end of the club's Scottish Cup-winning season in 2005-06, after refusing to extend his contract. He then became the first player to use Fifa's Article 17 rule that allows a player to leave a club of his own accord after a specified period of time, joining Wigan before moving to Rangers, initially on loan.

Although a Rangers player for three years he spent much of his time away on loan again, most successfully with Dundee United last season. He skippered the Tannadice club to Scottish Cup success but made just two appearances during this campaign on his return to Ibrox. However, Webster is expected to begin training with his new team-mates on Monday and is in line to make his debut at Hamilton Accies a week tomorrow.

Hearts manager Jim Jefferies stressed that what happened between the club and player in the past is firmly in the past. "I am not interested in what happened," he said. "All I care about is the future and Andy can play a big part in that for Hearts."

Taken from the Scotsman

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