Analysis: The contract status of Hearts' first-team stars
Ten Hearts players are out of contract this summer as manager Craig Levein prepares to reshape his squad. January signings are in the pipeline but Levein will try to retain some of the established first-team regulars whose deals are due to expire.
Goalkeepers Jon McLaughlin and Viktor Noring, defenders Aaron Hughes, Krystian Nowak and Daniel Baur, midfielder Prince Buaben and forward Jamie Walker all have agreements finishing at the end of the season. Loanees Connor Randall, David Milinkovic and Ashley Smith-Brown are also due to return to their parent clubs at that time.
Hearts are already resigned to losing Walker, who has informed the club hierarchy he won’t sign a contract extension. A £300,000 offer from Wigan Athletic is on the table if they wish to cash in this month. Noring is surplus to requirements as third-choice keeper and could also leave before the winter transfer window closes.
McLaughlin’s recent success in goal means talks will soon take place about an extended deal. The Edinburgh-born keeper set a new club record at Pittodrie last weekend by recording a sixth successive clean sheet. He arrived at Tynecastle in August and signed only until the end of the campaign but is firmly established as Levein’s first choice.
The future of 38-year-old Hughes beyond the summer will depend on fitness. He has featured in nine of Hearts’ 22 league games to date as a persistent calf complaint hindered his progress. Nowak has also been sidelined by injury for much of the campaign and it remains to be seen if he is a part of the club’s long-term plans.
Buaben is still highly-regarded by Levein, whom he worked with at Dundee United, and recently returned to the starting line-up after overcoming his own injury troubles. Baur is very much a fledgling youngster with potential at the age of 18. Both are expected to hold discussions about staying on beyond the end of the season.
Four development players presently out on loan are also in the final few months of their Hearts contracts.
Callumn Morrison, the 18-year-old winger, has ignited League Two with ten goals in 22 games for Stirling Albion. His loan there ends this month and a decision is expected soon on whether he stays, is recalled or perhaps loaned elsewhere until the summer. It would be a major surprise if he was not invited to put pen to paper by Hearts officials over the coming months.
The Canadian full-back Marcus Godinho, 20, is also due to return to Riccarton with his loan at Berwick Rangers about to finish. He has already spoken in this newspaper about his desire to earn a new deal with his parent club.
Nikolay Todorov, the 21-year-old Bulgarian forward, is at Livingston until the end of the season, whilst Scottish midfielder Angus Beith is on an emergency loan at Stranraer until January 20. The 21-year-old faces a key few months if he is to extend his stay at Tynecastle having come through the youth academy.
The remainder of Levein’s squad are contracted until next summer and beyond. Plans to reinforce the group while the transfer window is open centre around the left-back area. Management covet a steadying influence in that position following a number of costly signings who haven’t adapted to Scottish football in recent years.
In addition, Levein wants an attacking midfield player to improve creativity in the final third. A winger is also high on the priority list and will become even more necessary if Walker is to depart for England this month.
One proposed move which won’t be happening is the transfer of Jack Byrne from Wigan to Hearts. The clubs had spoken about a deal for the Irish midfielder, who is on loan at Oldham until later this month. As recently as last week it still looked likely to happen. However, Hearts chose to pull the plug and have now turned their attentions elsewhere.
CONTRACTS ENDING SUMMER 2018
Jon McLaughlin, Viktor Noring, Aaron Hughes, Krystian Nowak, Daniel Baur, Prince Buaben, Jamie Walker, Callumn Morrison, Marcus Godinho, Nikolay Todorov, Angus Beith. Loans ending: Connor Randall, David Milinkovic, Ashley Smith-Brown.
CONTRACTS ENDING SUMMER 2019
Michael Smith, Kyle Lafferty, Arnaud Djoum, Don Cowie, Conor Sammon (on loan at Partick Thistle until May 2018), Ross Callachan, Cole Stockton, Rafal Grzelak, Liam Smith (on loan at St Mirren until May 2018) Dario Zanatta (on loan at Raith Rovers until May 2018), Lewis Moore, Alex Petkov, Alistair Roy (on loan at Dumbarton until January 2018)
CONTRACTS ENDING SUMMER 2020
John Souttar, Christophe Berra, Jack Hamilton, Malaury Martin, Jamie Brandon, Esmael Goncalves, Rory Currie, Aidan Keena, Harry Cochrane, Anthony McDonald.