HEARTS aim to agree contract extensions with captain Alim Ozturk, winger Sam Nicholson and centre-back Igor Rossi as soon as possible.
All three are out of contract at the end of the season and initial discussions have already taken place with Ozturk and Nicholson. Rossi is also seen as a key part of the future at Tynecastle.
Whilst full-back Callum Paterson is reluctant to sign a new deal in the hope of moving to England next year, Hearts hope Ozturk, Nicholson and Rossi will commit their futures to the club.
“We’ve had conversations with Sam and Alim and we’re waiting to see where it goes from there. We just have to bide our time. The players are in the driving seat nowadays, that’s the thing,” said Robbie Neilson, Hearts’ head coach.
“These are guys who have done well for us and we want to keep our best players. We understand the lure of going down to England for players. That’s the way football is up here in Scotland. We are trying to build a team here which can progress year after year.
“We want to try and build a sustainable team here that can keep evolving. We don’t want to keep making as many changes as we had to in the summer there. Obviously it’s down to the players what they want to do but I’m pretty confident that they see their futures here.
“I think Alim and Sam just want to play and get themselves in the team first and foremost. Alim has been out of the side for a while and he wants to try and get himself back in. Sam wants to progress again and get a sustained run in the team with a consistent run of form.
“Igor has done really well in defence recently alongside John Souttar, and that’s why Alim is having to be patient and wait for his chance.”
Younger players Robbie Muirhead, Angus Beith and Nikolay Todorov are also out of contract next summer. Neilson explained why Hearts’ policy for the future must centre around continuity.
“I think we made 12 changes to the squad in our first season, and there were a lot again in the close season there to try and get ourselves sustainable again,” he stated. “All the players at Hearts have proven that they can play at the top end of the league. It’s now about trying to keep the team together and just add a player as we can – guys who we think can bring that little bit of extra quality.
“We’d like to sign maybe three or four players at the end of a season to build us up going forward. Instead, we’ve had to get eight or nine guys in. With that number, it takes time for them to settle. We’re starting to get there now. I’d like to be at the stage the bigger clubs are at. They bring in two or three new players each year and that’s it. That number bed in a lot easier than eight or nine or ten.
“That’s what we need to aim for, especially if we’re going to challenge in Europe. To progress in the early rounds of European competition, you need that continuity when you get into these games.”