Michael Smith wants to sign a new contract to remain at Hearts beyond next summer.
Speaking exclusively to the Evening News, the Northern Ireland defender explained he and his family are happy in Edinburgh and hope to extend their stay in the Capital.
Smith signed a two-year contract upon joining Hearts from Peterborough United in June 2017. He has been a dependable and versatile performer at right-back, left-back, centre-back and centre midfield during his time at Tynecastle Park.
He is entitled to discuss a pre-contract agreement with other clubs in a matter of weeks with his current Hearts deal expiring next summer, but Smith is already clear on where he wants to continue his career. Talks with Hearts officials over a new deal have yet to begin and the 30-year-old is hopeful they will commence soon.
“There’s been nothing yet. We’ve still got a bit of time. I’ll probably have a chat with the club about it in the next few weeks and we’ll see what happens,” he said.
“I’m definitely happy here. I’d love to stay if I’m offered a new deal. My family are happy, I’m happy playing football and Hearts is a great club to be at. I definitely want to stay.”
The conundrum facing the Hearts manager Craig Levein will be whether to keep the ever-reliable Smith for next season and therefore limit the game time for emerging young right-backs Jamie Brandon and Marcus Godinho.
Smith is viewed as a senior and influential figure within the Riccarton dressing room and his performances would certainly justify a contract extension. In talks with his manager, he has received encouraging feedback despite Hearts’ recent run of four defeats and a draw in five games without scoring.
“I feel I’m playing well, not unbelievably well like everyone was at the start of the season,” admitted Smith. “We have all dropped off a little bit but it’s down to me to get that back. I’m not happy about the results because it’s a team game and it’s not just about me. I can hold my head up and say I’ve done alright.
“The manager seems to be happy enough with me. We talk quite regularly about how I’m feeling and stuff like that. He likes my opinion and he’s happy with my run of form so far. I just need to continue it.”
Consistent club form in Scotland earned the player consecutive international starts for the first time earlier this month. Smith joined Hearts with one Northern Ireland cap to his name but now has four after recent outings against Republic of Ireland and Austria.
“I’ve waited a long time to get my chance,” he pointed out. “The manager [Michael O’Neill] showed a bit of faith playing me against the Republic and I think I repaid him. He kept me in the team for the Austria game so I was pleased with how I did over the international break. Hopefully that continues as well.”
Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at St Mirren leaves Hearts seeking to end their disappointing run this weekend when Rangers visit Tynecastle. The theme amongst the players is about taking responsibility while several influential colleagues recover from injury.
“That was the message in the dressing room from a few of us at full-time on Saturday,” revealed Smith. “It doesn’t really matter about the injured boys. The boys who come in need to stake a claim for their place in the team. They haven’t done that so it’s up to the manager what he does now.
“When those boys come back they will probably go straight back in because the boys who came in haven’t done it. It’s as simple as that.”
While Steven Naismith, John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu won’t be fit to face Rangers, the Hearts captain Christophe Berra has an outside chance.
“He’s massive,” said Smith. “He’s club captain, he’s vocal and he’s a leader. Getting him back training is great and I think he will be in contention for this week. We’ll see if the gaffer thinks he’s ready or not but, either way, it’s huge for us to see him back.
“Jimmy Dunne has done unbelievably well and Clevid Dikamona stepped in when John got injured. He has also done really well. At the start of the season, we were creating a lot of opportunities and scoring a lot of goals up the other end. As a defence, we were keeping clean sheets because we were keeping the ball well. At the minute, it’s all a bit neither here nor there.
“We aren’t on the best run but we still believe we’re good enough. We showed at the start of the season that we have the ability to beat teams and match teams. We need hunger and desire out there at the minute and that should be the first thing you show as a football player. That’s down to the players, no-one else.”
Hearts will play seven Ladbrokes Premiership games in total during December, ensuring plenty chances to consign their recent wobble to history. They are still just three points off the top of the league despite those difficulties. Smith is confident the next goal will be a potential turning point.
“When we score that next goal, a bit of pressure will be lifted. We’re just looking for that first goal and then we will play with the reins off a little bit. That’s the next aim and I think it will bring us back to winning matches.
“After the run of results we’ve just had, we definitely need games coming thick and fast to fix things and get it right.”