WAGE problems aside, Calum Elliot felt it was imperative he left Hearts. The striker needed a fresh start by his own admission, having grown stale at his formative club and is now exploring the possibility of leaving Scotland altogether to relaunch his career.
Elliot agreed a severance package with Hearts last week, which included a confidentiality clause preventing him discussing the ongoing wage delays. That issue isn’t top of his agenda in any case, for he is in the process of rebuilding his footballing life. His preference is to try something new, either in England or abroad. Clubs south of the border and in Europe have already expressed an interest in the 24-year-old, who is enjoying the final few weeks of a loan period at First Division Dundee. “My loan at Dundee and my Hearts contract both finish at the same time at the end of the month. Then I’ll look around and see what’s available,” Elliot told the Evening News. “If possible, I’d like to get a fresh start outwith Scotland but we’ll have to see what happens.
“I leave that up to my agent because I really just want to focus on getting back playing the way I can. I want to get into a new team and get playing well. If I do that, I know I can play at a high level. I need to be injury-free and in good form so I’m looking forward to the future.
“I enjoyed a lot of my time at Hearts but I needed a fresh start. Maybe I’d been at the club for two or three years too long. It got to the stage where I got too comfortable in the environment I was in, so I needed a fresh start. Thankfully, the owner and the club were good enough to let me go. It’s good for them because they can save money for paying wages, but mostly it was me wanting to get a new start. I could easily have stayed there till the end of the season but that would’ve done nothing for my career. I’m looking to get something sorted now rather than next summer.
“The past two or three years have been difficult for me with injuries but you can stay somewhere too long. Even being at Dundee for the last six weeks has given me a new lease of life and I’m enjoying playing football again. That’s the most important thing to me.”
That reference to the past prompts dark tales from Elliot. Images of him being physically helped out of Riccarton after training sessions lodge themselves in the mind as he explains the severity of his knee problems. He thanks his parents for their support in helping him survive.
“At the start of last season, 2010/11, I did my first pre-season in four or five years,” he recalled. “I felt really good but when the season started the problems with the knee got quite bad. As time went on it got worse and it got to the stage where I wasn’t really training. I was just trying to play the games and it was really difficult. It was never so bad that I feared for my career but you’re always worried. The operation I had earlier this year has made a massive difference to my life. Last season I couldn’t walk each day after training, so little things like that are a big deal.
“Psychologically it helps as well, just because you can go into training and games knowing you’re going to be fine. Anybody who has had knee problems will tell you how hard it is. Thankfully, the club and the medical staff were great. They sent me to the best possible people to get it sorted out. Fingers crossed that’s it finished with now and I can put it behind me – I want to move on.”
Not only did Hearts fund Elliot’s rehabilitation, they were happy to co-operate when he made clear his desire to leave. Tommaso Angelini, the player’s agent, is keen to acknowledge the club’s part in the process. He said: “I’d like to express my thanks to Hearts for their co-operation with Calum’s situation. They were very understanding and, having had a successful operation, Calum is now looking to find a new club.”
Elliot doesn’t dismiss the prospect of staying in Scotland. “With the past I’ve had, I don’t think I can rule anything out,” he said. “I’d like to stay at the top level if I can, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t stay at Dundee because they have been fantastic with me.”
Wherever he goes, the aim is to recapture the form shown during his early years in senior football. Elliot was reared in the Riccarton youth academy having joined Hearts at a young age and was regarded by coaches as one of their most precocious talents. The transition to first-team football was virtually seamless. The sight of him running Celtic ragged – aged only 18 – on New Year’s day 2006 is difficult to forget for anyone present that afternoon. He wasn’t to know it at the time, but that winter would represent the halcyon period of Elliot’s Hearts career as he lashed six goals in ten games under then-manager Graham Rix. “That was possibly my best time,” said the player. “I played a lot of consecutive games and the manager at the time had a lot of faith in me. That was something I enjoyed and I liked playing with the players we had at that time. Since then, I haven’t done as well as I should have. That’s why I feel I’ve maybe been at Hearts a bit too long. You need a fresh start to give yourself a kick up the backside at times.”