JAMIE MacDONALD has been Hearts’ safety net for years, so it is only natural he should aspire towards a more prominent role at Tynecastle at the age of 25.
The goalkeeper, however, feels disillusioned over his position, the club’s long-term objectives and the regular wage delays. He wants those issues addressed before agreeing to a new contract.
Discussions are already under way over a new deal with MacDonald’s current agreement due to expire next June. He is, though, seeking certain guarantees before signing. Payment of wages and his position in the goalkeeping pecking order are the key matters upon which his future depends.
Firstly, he is frustrated at being a mere back-up. When Vladimir Romanov decided Steve Banks was no longer fit to play for Hearts in 2008, MacDonald found himself temporarily promoted from the reserves. When Marian Kello was dropped due to a “private matter” last year, he stepped in again. When the Slovakian missed six games with a shoulder injury earlier this season, it was MacDonald who deputised. Sporadic first-team outings, these days, are no longer satisfactory.
MacDonald wants to establish himself as Hearts’ No. 1 but feels undervalued and restricted in his current role as Kello’s understudy. He wants to stay at Hearts despite being able to sign a pre-contract agreement with another club in January, but he is concerned by the financial issues that have led to problems paying salaries. He is also desperate to know the club hierarchy’s plan for the future.
“We’ve been talking about a new contract and Jamie wants to stay,” explained Dave McPherson, who represents MacDonald. “There are a couple of things he’s disappointed with. On the playing side, he’s done really well. He got himself into the team and became first-choice goalkeeper while Kello was out injured recently. Then he got a bit of a slap in the face when he got dropped for no reason at all and Kello came back in.
“The week after that, Hearts invited him in to talk about a new contract. I thought it was the wrong time to do it but you’ve got to do what you think is best for the player. At the time he was quite p***ed off with what had happened. He was playing in goal and then for no reason he gets dropped. He was disillusioned with it and then, following on from that, they don’t pay him.
“He’s talking to the club about a new contract and possibly signing for two or three years but the club isn’t paying the current one. So everything’s a bit in limbo at the moment.
“From Jamie’s point of view, he wants to stay at Tynecastle. But he wants to see a bit of continuity regarding players getting signed and a bit of a plan going forward. He needs to know what’s going to happen.
“He wants to be first-choice goalkeeper. He knows that, at any club, there is no guarantee because if you make mistakes you won’t be first-choice. But he’s at the stage in his career where he needs to be first-choice. Professionally, he wants to stay but there are a few issues that everyone in the public domain knows about. He wants to know the approach of the club, the stability of the club, and first and foremost whether he’ll be getting paid.”
Anyone who has witnessed MacDonald on first-team duty with Hearts would agree he is a reliable, professional and extremely capable goalkeeper. Excepting one blip at Inverness in September this year, when he lost his footing and gifted Gregory Tade the opening goal in a 1-1 draw, he has been a model of consistency.
“Over the past two years he’s come into the Hearts team and done a good job for two or three games here and there,” continued McPherson. “This season, he’s stepped up a level. He played six league games on the bounce and, apart from that mistake at Inverness, was really impressive. Everybody thought that was him in the team and that he was first-choice keeper.
“It’s not that Jamie’s in the position to say, ‘I want to be first-choice goalkeeper’. He feels he’s capable of that but if someone is playing better than him then he knows he has to wait his turn. But if he waits his turn and gets in there, then he doesn’t deserve to be thrown out again for no reason at all.
“He’s been at the club as a youth player, went out on loan to Queen of the South and did well, so now is the time to establish himself as a No. 1.”
Contract negotiations for MacDonald are being conducted by Hearts’ youth academy director John Murray. McPherson praised Murray for his approach but is also keen to hear from a member of the club hierarchy to put MacDonald’s concerns across.
“The whole problem Jamie’s got is that the club hasn’t made it clear what is happening going forward,” he said. “I just feel there’s a lack of direction. The only clear message to come out recently was from Sergejus Fedotovas to say there’s going to be a massive clearout. Young players will come in and they will develop the team that way.
“But, if you’re offering a player a new contract, the last thing you should be doing is not paying his salary. How can you get a player to sign a new contract when you aren’t paying his current one?
“The terms of the contract we discussed are decent enough. I don’t think money is the issue with Jamie. He knows, if he plays a good season in Hearts’ first team, his value could rocket and the club could make money selling him on. He’s more than happy with that and I would recommend he stays if that was the case. You won’t get a better club in Scotland to play for in terms of profile.
“He’s happy to sign, but there are these issues that need to be cleared up in the background first. One is the stability, knowing you’re going to get paid each month, and also where is he going to be in the pecking order for the team.
“We’re dealing with John Murray. John has been brilliant for the club and that’s why he’s lasted there so long. He’s forthright and he’ll always do what is right for the players. The negotiations with John are great, but he can’t guarantee that Romanov’s going to pay the salaries every month. We need to be certain before Jamie signs a new contract.”