Liam Boyce speaks on his Hearts future and potential new contract
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Comment on his future has been plentiful since reports of interest from Aberdeen and Ipswich Town emerged. The Northern Irishman finished a week-long training camp in southern Spain feeling buoyant about the campaign ahead. He has no intention of going anywhere.
Not that Hearts are interested in any sale. Boyce is their primary goalscorer with 16 from 41 appearances last season and is the club’s only recognised first-team striker for now. That situation will change before the summer transfer window closes but he remains the man to dislodge.
Boyce isn’t content with that scoring ratio. There is always room for improvement in his eyes. Entering the final 12 months of a lucrative three-and-a-half-year contract, he stressed he is happy at Hearts and would sign an extended deal if offered.
“Wherever I’ve been, I’ve never tried to force my way out or say I’ve wanted to leave,” he explained. “If the team wants me and I feel like I’m valued here then I’m happy to stay anywhere that’s available – and if the club want me to stay I’m more than happy to.
“I’m happy to be here and I’ve always said I’m happy to go wherever I’m wanted or stay wherever I’m wanted. I’m just happy to be at Hearts, a big club, we’re in Europe and that’s the way I take it.
“When you get older it [speculation] sort of happens in every window. I don’t know where it came from. I just concentrate on playing well and scoring goals and seeing what happens.”
Now would be a strange time to push for an exit from Tynecastle Park with European group-stage football guaranteed next season. “Exactly, last year we worked hard as a team and we were playing well, getting to cup finals and this is the reward for that,” said Boyce.
“Now we thinking about winning games in Europe. It’s not just about getting there and celebrating, that’s it over and you go out at the first opportunity. We want to go in and show how good we are.”
A punishing week-long stay in the searing Spanish heat tested the Hearts players and provides a fitness base for a demanding fixture schedule. Boyce intends to be heavily involved and, when reinforcements do arrive up front, he won’t be relinquishing his place easily.
“It’s been a brilliant camp, pre-season has been really good. Not for me personally in the sun but we’ll get the benefits of it later on in the season,” he said.
“Towards the end of last season I didn’t score as much goals. That happened before once when I was at Ross County. Hopefully I can fix what went wrong at the end of the season and get a few more goals and hopefully hit 20, as everyone has been asking about it.
“This is probably the first year I’ve had the summer off with not having international games so I’m feeling good and ready to go. I’ve come back rested and in better shape.”
He knows the Riccarton squad will be strengthened further after Alan Forrest, Kye Rowles, Lewis Neilson, Alex Cochrane and Jorge Grant signed. “Nat Atkinson and Kye have still to arrive. We’ve had some new signings and you can see we’re bringing in quality. The Australian market has been working with Cammy [Devlin] and Nat.
“We know we have a good team in the way we play, we have players that suits that. We were really good last year and we’re trying to get stronger and stronger. With being in Europe this year we’re going to need that and need players who can step in any time and play. I think we’ve done good business so far and I’m sure we’re not done yet.”
Boyce’s own European experience comes from formative club Cliftonville. He spent six years in their first team, save for a brief spell with Werder Bremen in season 2010/11, and plundered a sackful of goals in both domestic and continental competition.
At 31, he is anticipating a timely return to the European arena with Hearts. Any striker will tell you every goal is important, but there is an extra special sensation from rippling the net in a European tie.
“I scored for Cliftonville in Europe in the past,” said Boyce. “We were in the qualifying rounds and it was a good experience, I scored a few goals. You get more time on the ball, it’s a bit like international football, and it’s who is better on the day. It would be good to see how we cope with that.
“We played Celtic when I was at Cliftonville, we beat a Croatian team then played Celtic. They beat us 3-0 at home then 2-0 at Parkhead. It was a good night, hearing the European music at a big stadium. You want to being lining up hearing you’re playing in Europe, it’s the stuff you remember when you stop playing.”
Hearts enter the Europa League play-off round next month hoping to progress to the group phase. Lose that two-legged tie and they automatically drop into the Europa Conference League groups.
“We know we’re going to be up against a good team in the last qualifier, it’s when all the big teams come into it. It’s a reward for how well we did last season and we want to prove how good we are and try and implement ourselves on the game.”