Hibs legend Darren McGregor would be at Hearts had Rangers not offered him more money five years ago, according to Craig Levein.
McGregor was offered a contract at Tynecastle Park upon leaving St Mirren in 2014 but chose a more lucrative deal at Ibrox.
He moved on to Easter Road the following year and played a key role in Hibs’ Scottish Cup success in his first season. Levein was Hearts’ director of football in 2014 and believes the defender – whom he likened to Christophe Berra – would have been a hit at Tynecastle Park had Rangers not stepped in.
“Darren is like Christophe Berra in a way,” said Levein. “Christophe has obviously been down in England playing in the Premier League but his attitude to defending is quite similar. He takes pride in it.
“I like him as a player and he’s a decent fellow. I think he would have have joined us if Rangers hadn’t been in for him but it was about money. That isn’t an uncommon theme when dealing with players and agents and I understand that.
“If you’re a free agent looking for a new club and someone offers you three or four times what another club offers, then what are you going to do?”
Ahead of tomorrow’s Edinburgh derby, Levein is making steady progress in contract negotiations with key Hearts players. Having already extended deals for Berra, John Souttar, Michael Smith and Uche Ikpeazu, he is close agreements with striker Steven Naismith and midfielder Peter Haring.
Naismith is on loan at Hearts from the English Championship club Norwich City until next month. His Norwich contract then expires in June and he becomes a free agent. Levein is desperate to sign the Scotland forward on a permanent deal and also wants to extend Haring’s agreement beyond summer 2020.
Arnaud Djoum, the Cameroonian midfielder who is out of contract next month, is also on the agenda. Levein detailed his thoughts on trying to build a core of players who can serve Hearts for several seasons to come. He has already secured the Livingston captain Craig Halkett for next year on a pre-contract agreement.
“We’re making progress with both Haring and Naisy and once I can get those down I’ll turn my attention to trying to get Arnaud sorted,” he said. “We’ve had what I’d call preliminary discussions with Arnaud. We managed to get Uche, John, Christophe and Mick sorted and I want to get these other three sorted.
“Peter and Naisy have slight difficulties with certain things, which is always the case before we can get completed, so I’m focused on getting them done and then I can turn my attention to Arnaud.
“We’ve got Craig Halkett coming in and Aidy White is making progress. The idea is to plan for the next two to three years with the core of a team who can provide consistency at a high level.
“I want to get a spine or foundation together so that you know, in nine out of ten games, these guys will go and perform at a certain level.”
Hearts head to Easter Road looking for a second win there this season and Levein knows what to expect.
“It’s always desirable to win these derby matches. When you look at the calendar at the start of the season, there is more excitement attached to these than the other games.
“We’ve played a lot of big games but the derby matches are the ones supporters look forward to, and so do I. I love the whole build-up, the intensity. I think I’ve experienced every possible result and emotion from this game. It’s not radically different for me on the touchline. It just brings an extra edge to it.
“I know how much this game means to the fans and I try to get that message across to the players, but to a level where they don’t lose their calmness during the match. That’s never a good thing.”