HEARTS expect to fend off interest from preying clubs and keep all of their key players for next season.
Head coach Robbie Neilson explained today that he does not anticipate losing anyone against his wishes this summer, but admitted he is aware of other teams watching his players.
Danny Wilson has been mentioned in connection with Celtic, although the Parkhead manager Ronny Deila admitted his interest in the Tynecastle captain is “nothing serious”. Many young Hearts players reared in the Riccarton youth academy are also attracting attention.
Neilson is relaxed about the situation as he prepares his squad for an assault on the Scottish Premiership. He believes the carrot of top-flight football at a club on the up is enough to persuade anyone to stay put.
“If you do really well in the Championship and the players excel then there is going to be interest. That is football,” he said. “There has been interest in a lot of my players and we have a few boys out of contract, who we are negotiating with at the moment.
“The market is there for them to look elsewhere. I would like to try to keep my best players but there is a realisation that bigger clubs can come in and take them. What I would say is: I wouldn’t expect to lose anyone that I don’t want to lose. If there are people I want to keep, I expect to keep them.
“If teams come in with an offer that is acceptable to us, then I’ll expect to lose them. What I don’t expect to happen is someone moves on and we are not happy about it. If someone leaves the club then it will be on terms that are acceptable to the club and the player.
“People talk about how comments from other managers can unsettle you. I think it gives you a boost, because you realise that teams admire you and are interested in you. When no team is interested in you, that is what unsettles you. You start worrying when nobody is talking about you. If there is interest in players then it just shows that they are doing really well.
“Big clubs talk, but I would like to think the majority of players here have enjoyed their season here and would like to have a good crack at the top league. This is a great place to play and, if they do leave, then they must be really careful about where they go.”
Jason Holt, Brad McKay and Scott Robinson will leave with Hearts’ best wishes at the end of the season when their contracts finish, whilst Genero Zeefuik’s loan from FC Groningen will not be converted into a permanent transfer as things stand.
Neilson will therefore have four gaps to fill in his squad and has already made inroads in that department. Hearts will offer a longer-term contract to the Spanish midfielder Miguel Pallardo. Contact has also been made with several other signing targets.
“We have had talks with the out-of-contract guys so it is a case of getting things ironed out really,” said Neilson. “There are also players I want to bring in who I am in talks with.
“The squad needs to change. I can’t keep the same squad an expect to have the same impact at a higher level. Players will come in, players will go out and things will continue to evolve. Hopefully at the end of it we have a better team than we do now.”
Ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Ibrox, Neilson has refused to relent in his desire for optimum performance despite Hearts winning the league two weeks ago. Players fronted up for training at Riccarton on Thursday morning to find a rota detailing a triple session for the first-team squad. It is simply a continuation of the manager’s work ethic which underpinned their league success.
“It is important that we keep working hard. We had triple session and, although we weren’t out for too long, we were working hard for Sunday,” explained Neilson. “We can’t just think that we can down tools because we have won the league. We have six games and you simply have to win games at Hearts.
“We can’t go into the game on Sunday not 100 per cent prepared, otherwise we will get beat – and if we get beat then we will lose that momentum that we need top take into the Alloa game [on Wednesday] and then Easter Road the following week.
“We are not going to take our foot of the gas. It would be easy to just play games in training and say: ‘Let’s have a jolly up for the week’. When you do that, you lose focus and lose sight of what a big game Sunday is. It is a chance to go to Ibrox as champions and hopefully get a result.”
Neilson stressed that the quest to keep winning was not necessarily out of respect for other teams, such as Rangers, Hibs, Queen of the South and Falkirk, who are still competing for play-off places.
“We don’t owe that to any other teams. We owe it to ourselves and the fans, for our own personal pride. We have sold out our allocation on Sunday and everyone is paying good money to come and watch us. We need to give everything. It is not fair if we don’t perform.
“I think Ann [Hearts owner] has set the standards from the very top of the club but, in terms of the football, the whole season has just been about working hard and being committed.
“We’ll continue that. The players will get their close-season off then they’ll be back in and ready to go again.”