Honest Beni Baningime opens up on Hearts future - 'it's a complicated one'

Midfielder feels at home in Gorgie but must consider loved ones when he weighs up new contract offer

Beni Baningime doesn’t shirk the question. He is the only one left, the only out-of-contract Hearts player offered a fresh deal in the past few months not to accept it. Craig Gordon, Craig Halkett and Alan Forrest have committed. But Baningime has not yet put pen to paper. The Congolese midfielder has a lot to weigh up.

Now 25-years-old and in the final months of a three-year agreement with the Tynecastle club, former Everton youth academy graduate Baningime has a big decision to make. When fit and selected, he is a key component of this Hearts team that is away and clear in third place. A large chunk of his stay in Gorgie has been marred by a serious knee injury that took over a year to heal properly. But now fit, he looks the part. A diligent user of the ball, he is likely to be in demand should he decide his future lies away from Edinburgh. He is makes no secret of how much he enjoys being part of the furniture at the club but admits he misses his family, who are down south in Wigan.

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“That's a complicated one,” smiles the affable Baningime when asked about his situation. “There is a contract on the table but I am just concentrating on the football right now and to get back into the team. I am happy here. I love it here I missed Europe this season because I was injured so that's 100 per cent an incentive. I need to speak to my family. I know there is a contract down and I know the gaffer and everyone here wants me here. It's a choice I have to make. I will think about the decision by the end of the season.”

Baningime says manager Steven Naismith gave the team great confidence when they last faced Celtic.Baningime says manager Steven Naismith gave the team great confidence when they last faced Celtic.
Baningime says manager Steven Naismith gave the team great confidence when they last faced Celtic.

Baningime is rarely rushed on the pitch when in possession and he is unlikely to make a quick decision on what to do next. “There isn't a deadline,” he explains. “It's a case of whenever you are ready. I haven't spoken to the gaffer or the club recently because it has just been game after game after game.” He is asked if there are other options. “I haven't spoken to my agent,” Baningime admits. “I am not sure. Even if there was, I am not really in a rush. I am trying to do the best I can do in a football sense.”

Baningime makes no secret that family will play a part. He is on his own in Edinburgh. "They are down south so there are a lot of things,” he says. “I need to wait and speak to my family and see what they want. If they want me home … but when it comes to the football side of things, I am very happy here. I'm single. I have always lived at home so coming here was a big thing. I just love being close to my family. My family are very close. Every decision I have to make I have to speak to them about everything.

"Hearts are a great club and I 100 per cent love playing in the big games and Europe next year too. I love it here. When it comes to the football side it is brilliant, but when it comes to the outside stuff, it's about being at home and being close to home. It's not often I get to see my family, I think the last time I went was during the break. It's a bit tough but you get used to it.

“Ultimately, the decision will be made – but not right now.”

Beni Baningime's contract with Hearts expires at the end of the season.Beni Baningime's contract with Hearts expires at the end of the season.
Beni Baningime's contract with Hearts expires at the end of the season.

In the immediate term, Baningime has a date with Celtic on his mind. He will be hoping to be restored to the Hearts starting XI, coming on as a sub in the midweek 1-1 draw with Hibs. Cammy Devlin was selected ahead of him but Hearts were better with their ball use once Baningime was introduced. “Everyone player wants to play,” he says philosophically. “But I am completely happy and I understand there's a lot of competition in the team. Cammy came in and there's Macauley [Tait] and Finlay [Pollock] and [Aidan] Denholm and I'm not really bothered about that. It's competition.”

Baningime was part of the Hearts team that vanquished Sunday’s opponents at Celtic Park back in December. It sparked a 12-game unbeaten run that has catapulted them to third in the Premiership with ten matches remaining. "It was a great memory winning at Celtic,” Baningime recalls. “We hadn't won there for a long time so hopefully we can beat them again on Sunday.

“The gaffer gave us a lot of confidence before the game. Obviously, Celtic are a great team, but you shouldn't give them too much respect. When they do, they will punish you because they have a lot of good players. If you have that belief in yourself, you never know. On that day, we were brilliant."

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The match against Celtic will finish off an eight-day run of fixtures that also includes a 5-0 humbling by Rangers and an energy-sapping Edinburgh derby. "That's the life of a footballer,” adds Baningime. “That's your job. It does take it out of you, but that's our job. If we are going to be third and we are going to be in Europe, there's going to be ever more games next season. So you have to get used to it and get on with it and try and figure out a way to get a result.”

And figure out his future, too. Baningime has much to ponder.