Jon McLaughlin will continue his farewell tour at Pittodrie tonight but will do so in the belief he is leaving Hearts in good hands.
The goalkeeper stopped short of confirming these were the last few games of his short but successful Hearts career. However, manager Craig Levein is already looking at his replacement in the expectation the 30-year-old will pursue more lucrative offers down south.
McLaughlin did not deny he was weighing up his options but feels confident both he and Hearts can go on to greater things whatever happens. Tonight’s trip to play Aberdeen is potentially his fourth-last appearance for Hearts since signing a one-year deal in the summer. He had ripped a tendon in his arm at the worst possible time – only weeks before the end of last season and just as he was coming out of contract at Burton Albion.
“It puts a huge question mark over you – a goalkeeper with a serious arm injury, it could completely derail you,” he reflected.
He will be eternally grateful to Hearts for handing him the short-term contract he wanted and then providing a platform to prove himself again. McLaughlin acknowledges his next step rates as the likely biggest decision of his career.
“Hopefully I am in that prime part of a goalkeeper’s career, when you still have – touch wood – a good number of years ahead of you, but also have the experience under your belt,” he said. “You are at a good age.
“It did not quite happen last summer with the injury and the timing of it. But again, I have had a really good season here. Things are going well. It is an exciting time and an important time. That is why we have been honest about our opinions and what we are looking at doing, possibly going elsewhere and leaving while acknowledging this has been a huge part of why things are going well.
“We have been talking with a lot of people,” he added. “Obviously there is good interest, which is nice after the way things have gone this season. As of yet, there is nothing concrete, nothing signed, nothing set in stone, here or anywhere else.”
It clearly provides some comfort that McLaughlin feels he is leaving the club in better shape under Levein. “Really good foundations have been put in this season,” he said. “They have done well with the gaffer stepping into the manager’s position. He and his staff have done a really good job of making everyone see the potential that’s here. If you can get the key areas nailed down and get a bit of consistency in various areas, it gives you a real good platform.
“This club has so much going for it,” he added. “It’s rebuilding from the trouble it had, and that takes time, like any club. You can’t just throw tons and tons of money at something. It takes time and you have to have the right people in place.
“Even if I do move on, they have a great defensive unit in there. I’m sure the manager is working very hard to make sure that, whatever happens, it is important to have the right person in the goalkeeping position to gel with the group and make sure that the basis is still there for next season. They are very strong defensively and they can hopefully build on the attacking side of things to coincide with that.”
Skipper Christophe Berra has been a significant reason for the improvement in defence yet was absent from the PFA Scotland player of the year shortlist released this week. “I was very surprised,” said McLaughlin. “Sometimes, unfortunately, our end of the pitch can be slightly overlooked. People like to see goals and flair players, the ones doing the attacking at the sharp end of it. Sometimes the defence’s ability can be overlooked.
“I know it is not overlooked by managers and people working within the game. I think it is a surprise; him, John (Souttar), Aaron (Hughes) now as well have been rocks on the park. Christophe has led that.
“He is a captain off the pitch and he is a calming influence on those around him. You know how solid he is, how few mistakes he makes and how dominant he can be. It’s been overlooked if he has not at least been shortlisted among a few for that award.”