Craig Levein has revealed that it is likely to take until the summer to establish which of Hearts’ loan stars are able to be retained for next season.
Demetri Mitchell, Joaquim Adao, Steven Naismith, Connor Randall and David Milinkovic have all impressed since joining on temporary deals from Manchester United, FC Sion, Norwich City, Liverpool and Genoa respectively.
Levein has made no secret of the fact he is eager to keep hold of the first three beyond the summer.
He is also a big fan of Randall but the fact Hearts are currently well stocked with right-backs means there is no guarantee they will move to extend his stay in Edinburgh.
Milinkovic has become something of a fans’ favourite with his high-energy displays this season, but it remains to be seen if the manager, who has previously expressed reservations about his tactical awareness, wishes to secure the French-Serbian winger on a permanent contract.
Although Hearts have already begun work behind the scenes towards shaping their squad for next season, Levein explained that it is unlikely to be a clear-cut process.
“The loan ones are more complicated but we have made some inroads,” said the manager. “You have the clubs and a lot of the time the clubs haven’t got their individual plan for the player sorted out yet. I’ve had a few clubs talking to me about who we’re going to put on loan next season, but a lot of the time we’ll bring everyone back in for pre-season, see how they do and then make decisions after that.
“So there’s a complication there because the player needs to want to come, the agent needs to be on board and then you also need the club to make the decision and we need to want to keep them. So there are four things going on there. There are a number of the loan players I want to keep. The loan players have been good for us this year so it would be good if we could keep hold of some of them but the circumstances in doing that are not all in my control.”
Levein, who dismissed a report linking Hearts with a move for Queen of the South striker Lyndon Dykes, rued the latest setback for Prince Buaben. The Ghanaian midfielder, who is the longest-serving senior player at Hearts, sustained a hamstring injury while playing for the development team in midweek which is likely to keep him sidelined for the majority of the remaining games this season. Having been unable to find any sustained rhythm in the last two years, Buaben appears likely to exit Tynecastle this summer when his contract expires.
“Prince has had one thing after another and has never really had a run of games,” said Levein. “He has not had a steady run of training week in, week out. He would have played more regularly but his performances when he has played have not been as good as he has been in the past but I put that down to the fact that he has not had the opportunity to train and play consistently.
“I don’t care how old you are, to reach a consistent level of form is difficult if you are not doing those things. He has been good for us, especially in the first two seasons, then he got injured.
“He can play a number of positions and he is brave and can take the ball even when he is not playing well and that shows balls. It has been a disappointing season for him as he has not had the chance to get going.”
Asked if Buaben would be departing Hearts at the end of the season, Levein said: “I have not had that conversation about who is staying or who is going with anybody yet. I will speak to those people before I make any announcements.”