Recent results might suggest otherwise but a collection of Hearts players are actually playing for their futures right now.
Five post-split Premiership fixtures will determine conclusively whether those out of contract this summer are to be kept on. Some of those decisions may, indeed, already have been made by the Tynecastle hierarchy.
Head coach Ian Cathro reinforced his squad with nine new recruits during the January transfer window, but more than half of them could leave when their short-term contracts expire. Five wins in 16 games since the Premiership’s winter shutdown haven’t helped their case or Cathro’s as he strives to win over supporters in Gorgie.
The Evening News revealed last month that the Slovenian international right-back Andraz Struna and the veteran Northern Ireland defender Aaron Hughes will be offered new deals. Both arrived in January and have done enough to warrant extensions in the eyes of management. Portuguese striker Esmael Goncalves and French midfielder Malaury Martin both signed three-and-a-half-year contracts and are therefore in situ for the long-term. The rest are fighting it out, allegedly.
Prize asset Callum Paterson has already made clear his intention to leave Hearts on freedom of contract once he fully recovers from cruciate and medial ligament damage. Sam Nicholson, like Paterson a Riccarton academy graduate, has similarly refused to sign a new deal. They could earn the club around £800,000 in combined compensation fees as they are under the age of 23 and were developed by Hearts. However, they would also need replacing.
Cathro and director of football Craig Levein aren’t expected to wheel in another nine new faces during the summer but it’s clear they will require to replenish the first-team squad. Players whose contracts are due to expire would be well advised to raise performance levels if they have any desire to stay in Edinburgh.
So what does the future hold for each of Hearts’ nine January recruits?
The Greek international midfielder doesn’t intend staying beyond the summer and, despite an authoritative start in maroon, this has shown in some of his displays. Capable of better and clearly has the ability to dominate a game as a current member of Michael Skibbe’s Greece squad. Verdict: Going.
Missed the last eight games with a persistent calf problem and his influence has been conspicuous by its absence. Even at 37, he still possesses the quality to thrive at the top level in Scotland. Worth the one-year contract extension currently being discussed. Verdict: Staying.
Left out of the team for the last two matches – a 1-0 home win against Dundee and last Friday’s 0-0 draw at Kilmarnock. Another who started strongly but has since faded. There have been no formal talks to extend his contract and is seems he may play out the final few weeks of the season on the substitutes’ bench. Verdict: Going.
Always destined to return to parent club Stoke City when his six-month loan finished. The Moroccan winger has shown ability in flashes and is clearly a threat in the final third. His lack of first-team experience is evident, which was the main reason Stoke wanted to loan him out. Verdict: Going.
Refused a contract from Hibs to join city rivals Hearts on a six-month amateur deal after nine goals in nine games for League Two Stirling Albion. Stepping up three divisions was a challenge and the Frenchman was loaned back to Stirling last month. Any club signing him professionally this summer must pay more than £40,000 in training compensation to his former club in France, FC Dieppe. That places the chances of him staying at Tynecastle in the “remote” category. Verdict: Going.
One of the more impressive January arrivals, the right-back reclaimed his place in the Slovenia squad last month after a nine-month absence. His Hearts performances have been more solid than brilliant and talks are taking place to extend his six-month contract. Verdict: Staying.
Another who signed a six-month deal when Hearts plucked him from Hamilton Academical. A left-back with a nice left foot but positional sense and distribution are questionable. Is he any better than Faycal Rherras, the Moroccan he displaced? Verdict: Future unclear.
The striker cost £175,000 from Anorthosis Famagusta and signed a three-and-a-half-year contract. Scored five goals in 12 games to date. Verdict: Staying.
French midfielder also signed for three-and-a-half years. Flattered to deceive so far. Verdict: Staying.
HOW HEARTS’ SQUAD SHAPES UP
Out of contract this summer
Under contract beyond this summer