Kanji Okunuki. The 24-year-old Japanese forward was all but a Heart of Midlothian player this summer. The club had agreed a deal to bring him to the club following a season on loan in the Polish top flight.

Then, out of the blue, a German second tier side came in and snapped him up with a more lucrative offer.

"We thought we had that done then out of nowhere his agent contacted me to say he is going to FC Nürnberg, they were prepared to offer more money," Hearts sporting director Joe Savage told Hearts Standard. "But we’ve got everything agreed!"

For the club it was another lesson in the unpredictability of the transfer window. Operating in it, whether it is the summer or January market, is akin to trying to make your way across a desert dune, the landscape prone to changing at any moment. 

When Hearts fans were getting antsy in the summer over the lack of transfer activity, the first signing not being made until the middle of July, it wasn't because the club were not proactive in trying to recruit. There were a number of factors involved, including complex deals which take time or transfer targets opting for different destinations.

READ MORE: Joe Savage on pressure of Hearts sporting director role, abuse and desire for success

The club split generally split targets into three categories: Players who are ready to come into the team straight away, those who strengthen the squad and then those who come in and raise the standards of players already at the club.

"We try to sign as many of the No.1s as we can to strengthen the starting XI," Savage, whose remit includes overseeing recruitment as well as the academy, women's team and medical, said. "Whether people like it or not, sometimes we can’t get them because sometimes they cost too much money or sometimes they don’t want to come to you. They look and think ‘it’s only Celtic and Rangers in that league, who are Hearts?’

"I’ve had that a couple of times. 'You don’t know who we are? Edinburgh, beautiful country, beautiful city, great stadium'. 'Yeah I would rather go play in the Championship or League One in England'. That’s life because money talks."

Transfer process

So, what is the process for the signing?

It is first led by the demands of the head coach. Steven Naismith will communicate what he needs, whether it be a centre-back, a central midfield option, a wide forward or striker. The head coach will indicate the type of profile and qualities required for each player in each position.

It will then move to the recruitment team which is led by the head of recruitment Will Lancefield and overseen by Savage to produce targets. This will be aided by data, scouting and relationships built up across world football. From there a list is put to the management team who then make the decision as to which players they want the club to try and sign after doing their own research and due diligence.

"That’s when I come into prominence," Savage said. "I will go and speak to the agent, speak to the club. Find out what we can afford to pay here, negotiate the deal and try and get him over. That’s my most important role.

"I have an opinion on the player, of course I do. I could turn round to Steven and say I think he’s good or I don’t think he is good but I will never say to Steven ‘you are signing him or not signing him’. As soon as I do that I’m goosed, there’s no getting away from it. As soon as Steven does a press conference he can turn around and say ‘Joe signed him’. I can’t have that. It shouldn’t be the way it works.

"Once that process is followed we do the best we can to sign him and then, whether people like it or not, every transfer is a risk. It’s 50/50 if it is going to work. You don’t know how they are going to settle, you don’t know if they are going to pick up the language, you don’t know if they are going to be at the standard you expect them to be."

Scouting Scotland

As fans will know, the club are keen to scour markets across the world. They have brought in recruits from Australia, Japan and Central America. As well as more familiar markets in the UK.

"Will Lancefield, my head of recruitment is down south. He is down south because we don’t need anyone in Scotland. We’ve got the best scouts in the country in Steven Naismith, Frankie McAvoy and Gordon Forrest. They watch all the games, all the teams we’re playing against.

READ MORE: Hearts legend Craig Gordon on his quest to master goalkeeping

"You could say ‘what about the Championship and League One?’ We scout that but if that’s the level we are looking to improve Hearts, we’re in trouble. No disrespect to the Scottish Championship and Scottish League One, there are not many people at those levels who are going to come straight in and improve us. There might be one or two. Generally that’s not the case, you have to look elsewhere.

"You have to target the best players in Scotland but sometimes you can’t get them because other teams want too much money or sometimes the player or agent wants too much money and you can’t afford them. You have to look in the English market, Australian market, Japanese market. We look in all these markets."

Tagawa example

Savage offered Kyosuke Tagawa as a case study of some of the road blocks that clubs can hit during transfer negotiations. The Japanese international, signed on a three-year-deal from FC Tokyo, is back fit after injury.

"He’s not played a lot just now," he said. "He might be one of those fans are on the fence about or negative about at the moment. I would say give him time. He’s 24 years old, he’s come from Japan, was in Portugal last year. He was going to sign for that Portuguese club if it wasn’t for them getting relegated. They were going to buy him for a million quid. He didn’t want to go and went back to Japan but he told FC Tokyo he wanted to leave.

Hearts Standard:

"He didn’t do a pre-season so Kyosuke is playing catch up. You could say ‘Joe, you could have better recruited that’. We tried and tried and tried to get him in earlier. The Japanese clubs are very difficult to deal with, especially in the summer because it is half way through their season. I’ve got so much respect for the Japanese league and I’d do the same. When you are signing one of my players and we’re in the middle of the season, I’m going to be difficult to deal with. It was difficult to get the deal done.

"He’s then had the injury. If you look at Tagawa’s data and stats. He runs away from the ball. Is he as fast as Josh Ginnelly? No he’s not, Gino is rapid. Tagawa is a No.9, wants to run away from the ball, get in behind. In my opinion he will come good.

"We were always aware of his time in Portugal. We kept an eye on it. Under Robbie this was. When the opportunity presented itself again we put him forward to Steven and his coaches. They go and watch the player, do their own digging, find out as much information as possible character wise and then Steven comes back to me and says ‘we really like Tagawa, can we get the deal done?’."

Hardest part of the job

Getting a deal over the line is far from simple. As is the way of the world it comes down to money. The "switched on" agents will find out what the club pay in net.

"I try to say we pay this gross," Savage explained. "But what does he pay after tax? Well he is probably going to be taxed 47 per cent. You can see them calculating in their head. That happens all the time.

"When you start negotiating you don’t think it will take as long as it does. That’s the hardest part of my job. See once Steven tells me ‘I want to sign him’. I don’t go 'brilliant!'. I go ‘right here we go, this is where the job starts’.

"I need to go to that club and negotiate with them and say to them ‘what can you accept?’ As soon as you make your first offer they will reject. A player could be worth £2million, you walk in and offer £3 million and they will reject it because no one accepts the first offer. It’s just a rule of thumb. They know your first offer is not your best offer, it is testing the waters. So you have to go through all that rigmarole. You have to play the game, make that first offer, get it rejected then make another offer, probably get it rejected then hit a wee bit of an impasse.

READ MORE: How Steven Naismith earned Hearts head coach opportunity

"Then the agent comes back and says they are going to sell him to this club. You say ‘we’ll move on’ knowing full well that they don’t want to sell them to that club because the player has already said he wants to come to your club. You have to try and keep negotiating with them, working it around with them until you get to the point [where the deal can be done].

"Everyone wants that marginal victory, that small gain. That club wants to turn round and say ‘haha! We got exactly what we wanted off Hearts’ whereas I want to turn round and say ‘haha I got exactly what I wanted out of that deal’. It’s about trying to get that common goal. These are the things that no one talks about. See when you are trying to go and learn and develop yourself, no one talks about how hard the negotiation of a transfer is. They are so hard and take ages."

Savage added: "We had a lot of interest in our players in the summer. I’m not selling unless it is an offer we can’t refuse because he has two or three years left on his contract so he’s not going anywhere. It has to be right for us because what we then need to do is sign somebody else to replace them. If said club gets any inclination of what they think we have sold that player for they are going to charge us a fortune. If we sold that player for £2million even though we had only sold them for £1.2milllion but it is reported by the press it is £2milllion everybody weirdly believes everything the press right. ‘You sold him for £2million’. No we didn’t.

"I’ve seen stuff which said Shankland cost £500,000. He cost nowhere near that but people say that’s what he cost and it is out in the open. That’s not the case at all. We have to contend with people driving up the price and we do it ourselves so I’m not criticising anyone for it because you need to get the best deal you can possibly get for your players. To do that is skullduggery everywhere."