IT’S been ten months, but to Calum Elliot it feels like ten years.
Moving to Lithuania rejuvenated the former Hearts striker to the extent of netting 16 goals in 32 league games for Zalgiris Vilnius, but enough is enough. He is now desperate to come home and wants a transfer back to Scotland or England when the A Lyga season finishes next month.
Elliot was released by Hearts last December and, following a trial with Houston Dynamo in America, headed to eastern Europe hoping to get his career back on track. Injury problems had finally subsided and he needed regular football to restore his confidence. Zalgiris offered him a platform through sport director Mindaugas Nikolicius, who previously worked in a similar capacity at Hearts, and he signed a two-year contract.
Elliot scored 12 goals in his first 11 A Lyga appearances and helped Zalgiris win the Lithuanian Cup in May. He was, to all extents and purposes, running riot abroad. Homesickness had yet to take hold, however. Six months on, he yearns to be closer to friends and family in his native Edinburgh but must first deal with two major issues.
Firstly, he agreed to try and help his club win the league. With two games remaining Zalgiris are currently one point behind leaders Ekranas, whom they beat 2-1 two weeks ago. Then Elliot must negotiate his way round the board of directors who want a transfer fee before agreeing to let him leave.
“I don’t think I’ll be back [here] next year. I just have to sort something out with the club,” he said, speaking to the Evening News from his temporary home in the Lithuanian capital. “I tried to leave in the last transfer window but they wouldn’t let me go because they wanted to try and win the league. Hopefully, if we win the league, they will let me go. I just need to keep my fingers crossed. I still have a year left on my contract so hopefully they can sell me or loan me somewhere else.
“The problem in the last window was the club wanted a fee but people are of the opinion that they don’t want to pay money for players from over here. It’s been quite difficult in that way and I was quite angry about it. I’ve just tried to get on with it and focus on the end of the season. If it’s possible, I’d like to come back to Scotland or England. There has been interest from different countries so I need to make the right choice at the end of the season. I’ll get things sorted out here and then see where I stand.”
It is difficult to believe Elliot is still only 25. He was a regular in the Hearts first team by the age of 18 and seems to have been around the Scottish football scene forever. As he gradually fell out of favour at Tynecastle and became a target for criticism, the player was loaned to Motherwell, Livingston and Dundee before eventually severing ties with the club he supported as a child.
Lithuania was the means to an end; a chance to revamp himself in a new environment away from those waiting to judge him and willing him to fail. “It’s been good to be a normal person and do what you want over here because not many people bother you,” continued Elliot. “Obviously, you have a lot of time to yourself which isn’t really the best for me. I like to be with my family. That’s probably been the biggest thing, the time you spend yourself.
“You are only at training for maybe four or five hours a day, then the rest of the day is yours. I’m in a foreign country and, although Vilnius is a beautiful city, there is only so much you can do on your own. I’ve tried to take up activities to pass the time. I started doing yoga which has helped me after my injuries and allowed me to play in every game for Zalgiris. That’s been really useful.
“The first few months were really good but after four or five months you miss your home and your family. We only have two weeks of the season left. I can’t wait for it to finish and get home, to be honest. In terms of the football it’s been everything I wanted. I’ve played every week and I’d have bitten someone’s hand off for that last year after all the injuries I’ve had. Now I’m looking to move closer to home. I’ll just see what happens when the season finishes.
“It’s been good scoring goals but I’ve been playing midfield for the last few weeks because the team has had a few injuries. It’s been great just to play. I can’t complain. It’s definitely been the right move career-wise.”
Elliot still keeps in contact with the team-mates he grew up alongside at Riccarton, although he feels somewhat detached from Scottish football in his current habitat. “I still speak to Driver every now and again and a couple of others and I still keep an eye on Hearts’ scores. I would always want them to do well but I haven’t seen any Scottish games this season. Sometimes I’ll see the highlights on the internet but I don’t watch it, I’ve kind of moved on.”
If the chance comes to move back again, Elliot won’t hesitate. Lithuania has played a pivotal role in rebuilding his career but he is now counting the days until the end of his time in Vilnius.