Hearts have laid more foundations for next season by taking up an option to extend Clevid Dikamona’s contract, keeping the defender at the club until 2020.
With Craig Halkett also expected to sign a pre-contract deal in which he will swap Livingston for Tynecastle in the summer, manager Craig Levein, pictured, believes that tying up players early offers him a strong base on which to build for the new campaign.
“Clevid has also extended his contract by another year, which was up in the summer. So I’m happy with that,” he said, delighted to have kept hold of the 28-year-old Congolese defender.
“I’m trying to get everything in place for next season as early as possible. We’ve made quite a few signings of important players like Christophe [Berra], John [Souttar], Michael Smith, Uche [Ikpeazu] and now Clevid.
“We are still trying with Naisy [Steven Naismith], Peter Haring and Arnaud Djoum and if I can do that then it means that in the summer we’ll probably only have to sign two or three players. It makes me feel quite good that we’re not going to make ten changes, which we seem to have done in most windows up to now. It makes my life easier in the summer.
“I’ve been chopping and changing trying to find the pillars of the team. Now I’ve got players who I think for a period of time could be the mainstays and allow us to introduce young players or bring in two or three in the summer who can add more flair.”
While Celtic have dominated the Scottish game in recent seasons, Aberdeen have set high standards, largely based on continuity and a limited turnover, and Levein is aiming for a similarly positive response as he looks to benefit from the togetherness and experience of a squad that started the season so well and have made it to the semi-finals in both of the major domestic cup competitions.
“The stability will help us enormously,” added Levein. “I’ve been trying to get that for a year and a bit now and this will be the first window where I feel that we’re good. We’ve got reliable good players for this league who are also capable of improving. That makes me feel good.”
It also gives him scope to focus his attention and his budget on the extra sparkle he feels could elevate the side’s performances further next season.
“We need to do that,” he said. “We’ve made some signings recently that are slow burners and I put Craig Wighton into that category. He’s had difficulty since he arrived and I don’t think he was in the best shape but now he’s much fitter and he’s over this ankle problem that he had. I feel quite good about him. In training he’s starting to look the part and Sean Clare is the same.”
After a difficult start, Clare has weighed in with winning goals in the past two games to keep the team in the chase for a third-place finish in the Premiership and squeeze them into the Scottish Cup semi-final.
“Sean was a bit of a project for us and gradually, with games, he’s starting to prove his worth and I think those two will be really good players in the next year or two,” added the Gorgie manager. “We have the likes of [Harry] Cochrane and [Anthony] McDonald and some of our loan players are doing exceptionally well just now. Those younger players will pad out the squad and we might only need to bring two or three in.
“Harry has had five injuries this season and all of them are game impact injuries. He needs to strengthen up but technically he’s got everything that you could ever need to play in the Scottish Premiership in midfield.
“Last year we used him a lot because I didn’t have many options but having Peter in and Arnaud back to fitness, we’ve also got Olly Lee and [Oliver] Bozanic, so it’s given Harry a bit of time to grow.”
But while one eye is on the next campaign, Levein is still focused on finishing the current one on a high, starting with tomorrow’s league trip to Hamilton and, if he can steer the team past Championship Inverness Caledonian Thistle and his old friend John Robertson next month, a shot at winning the Scottish Cup in May.
“He’s done well,” said Levein. “We played them easier in the season but I think it will be a different game from then. He has strengthened the team and they’re picking up. He’s doing a fantastic job.
“I usually keep in touch with him and when I’ve got a spare couple of hours I’ll give him a call!”