CONTRACT talks between Sam Nicholson’s agent and Hearts officials are progressing well. In fact, the winger describes them as “brilliant”. He hopes to commit his future to the Edinburgh club by signing a new deal in the not-too-distant future.
Nicholson is in the final year of his existing agreement, which expires next May. Director of football Craig Levein and head coach Robbie Neilson are conducting negotiations on Hearts’ behalf and the player is hopeful they will come to a smooth conclusion.
Having supported the club since childhood and come through the Riccarton youth academy, Nicholson is in no immediate rush to leave Tynecastle.
Fellow academy graduate Callum Paterson is also out of contract next year and is expected to head for pastures new in England. Nicholson, 21, will happily continue his career in the Scottish Premiership assuming terms can be agreed on a new contract.
“Performances earn you contracts. Nothing gets handed to you in life,” said Nicholson, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “The only thing I can do is keep performing. It’s good for your career if you keep playing well.
“The talks are brilliant. Robbie and Craig are speaking to my agent. It’s nice for me to see that I’m getting rewarded and getting recognition from them. That’s perfect for me.
“I want to keep playing well and see what I can get from it. The boys are playing well just now and we’re doing what we can, getting points on the board. Any bonus that comes from it is good.
“I supported the club when I was younger and they’ve done a lot for me. The first way to pay them back is to do what I can on the pitch. That’s what I’ve been trying to do in the last few weeks. I think I’m doing okay. Hopefully I can kick on and keep my form.”
Nicholson will enjoy a much-needed break this weekend with the Premiership inactive during international fortnight. Normally he would be travelling with the Scotland Under-21 squad, however new coach Scot Gemmill made sweeping changes to the squad.
Nicholson was one of many high-profile names left out, although he concedes the rest will prove beneficial.
“I spoke to the manager [Neilson] a couple of weeks ago. He said last season I played a lot for someone my age. You could call it burnout or whatever, or just being tired going into some of the games. In the second half of the season, my form dipped a bit. I didn’t get the same rest as a lot of people because I was going away with Scotland Under-21s. Now I’m getting the rest, hopefully I can maintain my form.
“Of course I’m disappointed not to be in the squad. Everybody wants to play for the national team but I totally understand why Scot Gemmill’s done it this way. He’s preparing for the next qualifying campaign and boys who aren’t eligible for it [because they will be too old] are left out. Me, Jason (Cummings), Billy (King) etc, we all understand.
“We thought this was going to happen once we knew we couldn’t qualify. It’s better to have the next batch of players coming through. Scotland Under-21s is really good for young players and I think the next ones coming in will do a good job.”
That leaves Nicholson and the others to aim for Gordon Strachan’s full squad. It is a long-term aspiration but one which the winger definitely has his sights on.
“I think that’s something everyone has to aim for,” he continued. “I believe [Jamie] Walker was close to getting in recently because he’s been playing well. That’s what everyone strives to do. When you become too old for the Under-21s, like Walker has been, the full squad is what they’re pushing for. It’s got to be the exact same for me now.”
Club form is the key to full international recognition, as Paterson can attest. Nicholson has looked more like his lively, entertaining self in recent matches. After scoring a deflected opening goal in Hearts’ 3-1 win at Fir Park last Friday, he is the club’s joint-top goalscorer at the moment alongside Paterson and Walker.
He did have some doubts as to whether the goal would be credited to him given it took a major ricochet off Stephen McManus.
“They definitely all count,” smiled Nicholson. “I would love to claim it but I didn’t imagine it going down as mine. Sometimes when a team is sitting in against you, as Motherwell did in the first half, you just need to get a shot on target.
“I managed that and obviously it’s taken a deflection. In the last few games before Motherwell, we’d played really well and not got what we wanted. We scored three goals on Friday night and got the result we deserved.
“We realised we were creating chances over the last two games, so it was just a case of being ruthless. We had to get as many shots on target as we could. Three of them went in the net so it’s good to see that.
“We deserved goals from our last couple of games and they haven’t come. We were delighted with the outcome on Friday.
“We’re also relieved with the goals. We all discussed it last week. Like I said, we were creating chances but not scoring so we were frustrated. Sometimes you go through runs like that and you need a bit of luck to stop it. We got that bit of luck on Friday with the first goal. Callum and Arnaud Djoum’s goals after that were brilliant and it was a great way to head into the international break.”