Robbie Neilson insists Hearts have no intention of offloading Juwon Oshaniwa this summer.
The Nigerian left-back had a difficult first year in which he was sent off twice and struggled to win over supporters with some erratic displays.
The 25-year-old became a marginalised figure midway through the season but started to feature regularly again in the last month of the campaign.
With centre-backs Igor Rossi and Jordan McGhee often chosen ahead of him at left-back last term, Oshaniwa will face further competition from new recruit Faycal Rherras, who has made a positive impression at Hearts’ pre-season training base in St Andrews this week.
Oshaniwa, who is contracted to Hearts for another two years, gave an interview last week in which he claimed there had been interest in him from Turkish clubs Antalyaspor and Kayserispor. However, Neilson is adamant that he doesn’t want to lose the African, who arrived amid a wave of expectation last summer.
“There’s talk about a lot of players at this time of the season but I’m trying to build a squad here,” said the head coach. “I need cover at left-back and Faycal and Juwon will compete for the left-back position. I’ve not got any plans to let Juwon go, none at all. I’m trying to build a squad, so I can’t afford to let too many go.”
Dario Zanatta has been linked with a loan move to Dundee United, but Neilson insists he currently has no concrete plans to farm out the highly-regarded Canadian winger. “We’re not looking at putting Dario out on loan at the moment,” he said. “He’s been doing well around the first-team squad, but it’s maybe something we’ll look at later in the window. At the moment, we’ve got a lot of games and we’ve got friendlies as well, so he’ll be staying with us for now.”
Trialist goalkeepers Danny Amos and Viktor Noring were due to learn their fate as Hearts prepared to leave their St Andrews training base today. Both players have spent the last six days with the Jam Tarts in Fife and featured for 45 minutes each in the friendly defeat by Aberdeen on Thursday. “The two of them did quite well against Aberdeen, so I need to make a decision on them,” said Neilson.
American midfielder Perry Kitchen is due to return from Copa America duty on Wednesday to prepare for the following evening’s Europa League clash at home to Estonian side FC Infonet. “Perry finishes up after the third/fourth-place play-off [tomorrow] and then he’s got to nip back to Washington, so we’ll get him back on Wednesday. He’s registered and he’ll be involved on Thursday. Whether he starts or is on the bench, he’ll definitely be part of it.”
The entire Hearts first-team squad have featured in the two closed-doors friendlies against The New Saints and Aberdeen in St Andrews this week with the exception of right-back Liam Smith. “Liam’s had a wee problem with his thigh but he’s fine – he’ll train next week,” said Neilson.
Veteran midfielder Don Cowie has been restricted to brief outings in both matches as he tries to rediscover full fitness following a calf problem at the end of last season. “We’re just building Don back up,” said Neilson. “He had an issue last season with his calf and we took him out early. I want to take my time with him in pre-season. Because of the age he’s at, it’s important he doesn’t go straight bang at it. We’re just building him slowly and he’s been great.”