Lawrence Shankland, Alan Forrest and more: Hearts recruitment set to kick in

Interest in Lawrence Shankland and Alan Forrest is simply the prelude to a lively summer at Hearts. A recruitment drive is gathering pace in Gorgie and won’t stop until autumn.

Thursday, 5th May 2022, 7:00 am

Domestic and European commitments will necessitate a bigger first-team squad than the 21 players carried this season and work is already underway to expand the numbers.

Talks have taken place with Forrest, the out-of-contract Livingston winger, while Hearts also covet the transfer of Beerschot’s Scotland international striker Shankland.

Sporting director Joe Savage and manager Robbie Neilson have a list of potential targets for each position as they seek to augment a group which has indisputably restored the Edinburgh club as Scottish football’s third force.

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Signings like Stephen Kingsley, Beni Baningime and Barrie McKay proved inspired during a memorable campaign which may yet climax in the Scottish Cup final. More of those types would be ideal as Hearts seek to add quality and improve squad depth.

As a result of this season’s achievements, they are guaranteed at least eight matches in European competition starting on August 18. Factor in the ambition to cement themselves in the Premiership’s top three, then try to challenge Celtic and Rangers, plus progress in the Premier Sports Cup, and the fixture list assumes a rather congested look.

Savage and Neilson are fully aware they require a bigger playing pool. They must also replace a number of outgoings at the same time, hence the total number of incomings may even touch double figures by the time everything is done.

Shankland is a goalscorer well known to Neilson, who took him to Dundee United from Ayr United for free and helped develop him into an international forward. Last year’s move to Beerschot in a £1m deal hasn’t worked out but the Belgian club still want at least £500,000 to sell him right now.

Lawrence Shankland is wanted by Hearts.

Hearts won’t be paying that amount but, over the coming weeks, may attempt to negotiate while they pursue other targets.

Any deal for Shankland would not necessarily prevent Ellis Simms returning to Tynecastle Park on loan from Everton next season. Extra European ties will mean sufficient game time to satisfy top goalscorer Liam Boyce, Simms and Shankland or another centre-forward. Three in total would not be regarded as top-heavy.

Forrest is available for free and won’t re-sign for Livingston amid interest from Hearts and Dundee United among others. He is seen as a squad player who, in time, could earn himself a regular starting berth in Neilson’s team.

Former Doncaster Rovers defender Joe Wright has an open offer to train at Riccarton once he regains fitness. He had agreed a move to Tynecastle before suffering knee and ankle damage in Doncaster’s final game of the season last May.

One player who will definitely report to Riccarton for pre-season training in June is Euan Henderson. A tally of 17 goals in 29 games on loan at League One Alloa this term indicates the 21-year-old’s potential. His Hearts contract runs until 2023.

There will be a steady stream heading in the opposite direction at the end of this month. At least eight players will empty their lockers and walk out of Riccarton and that number may even reach double figures.

John Souttar’s pre-contract move to Rangers leaves a notable void in central defence ahead of next season. Wright’s fitness issues make him a relative unknown so an able-bodied replacement for Souttar is a priority.

Jamie Walker, Chris Hamilton and Mihai Popescu are all currently out on loan with only a matter of days left on their Hearts contracts. Hamilton has already been told he has no future with the club and neither Walker nor Popescu are likely to see their names on any retained list.

Simms, Ben Woodburn, Alex Cochrane and Taylor Moore have served Hearts on loan this term and will now return to England to discover their futures at their respective clubs.

Woodburn is out of contract at Liverpool and likely to move on. His vast salary would make a permanent move to Edinburgh extremely difficult regardless of whether both parties would covet such a move.

Cochrane hopes for an extended deal at Brighton and Hearts would be interested in another loan for the 2022/23 campaign. A similar deal for Simms would be entirely at Everton’s discretion. Moore is contracted to Bristol City and, as it stands, is not expected to be back at Tynecastle next year.

Others potentially departing are Loic Damour and Jamie Brandon. The French midfielder is still under contract at Hearts for another 12 months, however a mutual termination of that agreement is anticipated. Brandon is on loan at Morton and out of contract this summer.

There is understandable concern surrounding the popular Austrian midfielder Peter Haring. He has yet to accept Hearts’ offer of a new contract with talks said to be “ongoing”. Haring has looked at other options in different countries abroad and officially remains undecided on where he will play next season.

With the influential Baningime injured and unlikely to play again until after the World Cup finishes in December, keeping Haring is important. Or, at the very least, recruiting a similarly-dominant replacement.

A number of 20-year-olds are hovering on the fringes of Hearts’ first-team squad but it remains to be seen whether any can establish themselves over the coming months.

Midfielder Connor Smith has been offered a new deal, with others like defender Cammy Logan, goalkeeper Harry Stone and another midfielder, Scott McGill, all out on loan gaining first-team experience in lower divisions.

Below them, several under-18s are eager to step up. Forwards Makenzie Kirk and Murray Thomas, plus midfielders Aidan Denholm, Macaulay Tait and Finlay Pollock have all been involved with Neilson's senior side this season.

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