HEARTS last night announced that Darren Barr and Gordon Smith would not be offered new deals. The pair are among a number of players who are out of contract in the summer.
Barr has been a regular over the past 12 months following a slow start to his Tynecastle career after arriving from Falkirk, while academy graduate Smith could not make a sustained first-team breakthrough despite scoring in an Edinburgh derby.
Hearts manager Gary Locke earlier highlighted the need for more stability at the club this summer than they had last year.
Locke believes that the uncertainty between the departure of Paulo Sergio and the appointment of John McGlynn had an adverse effect on planning for the current campaign, and in particular is determined to ensure his squad have the right number and quality of pre-season fixtures this time round.
“There’s not really a big break between the end of this season and the start of the next,” Locke said yesterday. “[Director of football] John Murray, [managing director] David Southern and I will sit down and get pre-season fixtures organised.
“That’s really important, as we were hindered last year in that everything was up in the air until John McGlynn came in. So we have to ensure our preparations are far better. We didn’t organise enough games last time around.”
Locke will tell every member of his squad that they have a lot to play for in the club’s five post-split fixtures, which begin tomorrow with the visit to Kilmarnock. “We have pride and seventh place to play for,” he said. “For me and the players, the season is far from over and we need to try and finish as high as we can. We have big games coming up and we need to win as many of them as possible. No matter what happens, the players are playing for places here or somewhere. It’s important they gave it their all between now and the end of the season.
“We’re still not sure what is happening with certain players, but they’re either playing for their futures here or playing for it elsewhere. I know the lads really well and, whoever plays, I know for a fact they will give it everything they’ve got. Hopefully that will be enough to give us some victories.”
Once a particular season is out of the way, it may matter little to supporters whether their club finishes fourth or fifth if they are in the top half of the SPL, seventh or eighth if they are in the bottom six.
But for a club such as Hearts, whose financial worries have been well documented, every step up the league means some much-needed extra cash.
“It’s massive,” Locke said when asked about the incentives for finishing seventh rather than his team’s present position of tenth. “Financially, everyone knows the situation that the club is still in. We’re not out of the woods by any matter of means. The higher up the league we can finish, financially it will help the club.
“It’s not something that has been stressed on me, but I know myself. I’ve been involved with Kilmarnock as a player and I know how important it is to finish a place above where you might have been. Financially I know it’s big for the club.
“It’s great we have another Edinburgh derby to look forward to, and that will probably help the club as well. In terms of pride for myself and the players you want to finish high up the league, but it will also help the club financially.”
While Hearts will be unable to offer players the sort of wages they have been paying in recent years, Locke is confident that the chance to play for the club will still be an incentive for many potential signing targets.
“Clubs in Scotland are all in the same position – we can’t afford to pay the wages of the past ten to 15 years and players realise that situation. They know they can’t demand the wages of a decade ago,” he added.
“There are a lot of talented players going to become available over the summer and a lot of clubs will want them. We still believe Hearts are a big enough club and an attractive enough club for them.
“I want to surround myself with good players. If the thought of wages going down puts players off, then so be it – we’ll just go down our list.
“I want my players who are ready to give their all for Hearts next season and I’m sure we can attract them.”