Hearts' Kingston is playing for high stakes

HEARTS' satisfaction with Larry Kingston's improved attitude and performance will be tested at the end of the season when club management meet the Ghanaian's representatives to discuss a new contract. Tentative talks have already taken place between Sergejus Fedotovas, a Tynecastle director, and Ayrat Imamov, the agent charged with resolving Kingston's future on behalf of his Moscow-based management company, Pro Sports.

Having endured persistent injury problems for the last 18 months, not to mention a fractious relationship with previous manager Csaba Laszlo, the revitalised Kingston has drawn praise from Jim Jefferies in recent weeks for his overall application. He delivered arguably his finest display of the season on Saturday as Hearts secured a top-six place by defeating Kilmarnock.

His current contract, worth up to 15,000 a week with full bonuses applied, expires in June. Hearts seem open to the prospect of an extension given Fedotovas' initial exchanges with Imamov, however it is doubtful whether the club would commit to the same terms whilst striving to reduce operating costs at Tynecastle.

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Kingston's priority is to remain in Scotland – his wife and children are settled in West Lothian – even though he could potentially attract a number of suitors this summer performing for Ghana at the World Cup finals in South Africa. A reduced contract offer from Hearts remains a possibility, but Pro Sports insist finance is not their client's primary concern.

"The money is a question depending on the market," said Imamov. "Nobody knows how much salary could be available after the World Cup or after the last five matches in the SPL. We never think about money now, we think about respect and about the future. We have to find good solutions for Larry and I think Hearts is one of the best solutions for him.

"We could wait until the World Cup and decide to choose different options but I had a chat with Sergejus Fedotovas a few days ago and I told him Hearts is the first option. Hearts will be the first club we speak to before the World Cup. I told Sergejus that Hearts have given a lot to the player and we are ready to discuss the future with them. We are open.

"For now we are concentrating on the last five games and after the season we will sit and discuss everything with the Hearts management. All the troubles have passed and we are happy now. Everybody can see Larry is the same top-quality player."

Those troubles referred to by Imamov will not be easily forgotten by supporters. Kingston made just 12 appearances for Hearts throughout the whole of 2009. By Christmas, public opinion of this talented but often apathetic player had come full circle since the spring of 2007, when he was running riot at Ibrox and Celtic Park hoping to convince Vladimir Romanov to convert his loan from Terek Grozny of Chechnya into a permanent transfer.

Kingston and Laszlo collided on all issues from injuries to international commitments. The player's final outing under the Hungarian, December's 0-0 draw with Dundee United at Tynecastle, proved the most ignominious of all. He left the field after 86 minutes with hamstring problems and trudged towards the tunnel to a chorus of insulting chants. Four months on he is effecting a somewhat inspiring recovery after reclaiming a place in the side and setting about persuading the Gorgie public that he is actually a top-class African international footballer.

Much of the rejuvenation stems from a private discussion with Jefferies not long after Laszlo's departure.

"I said it was about him showing he wanted to play for the club," explained Jefferies. "When he first came here I think everybody agreed he was a very good player. Things happen that I wasn't party to but he convinced me when we spoke and I gave him the opportunity. He is turning out to do what he wanted to do, which is to play and do well.

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"Kingston deservedly won man of the match on Saturday because he was the one player who tried to get the ball down and pass it. We definitely missed him the week before at St Mirren."

The question for Jefferies, Fedotovas and Romanov is: Would they miss him permanently if they opt against offering that new contract?

Imamov believes Kingston, at 29, represents better value than a prospective new player who may command a transfer fee and who is unfamiliar with the SPL environment. "If Hearts want to make Larry happy we can find a solution, like we did three years ago when he joined the club," continued Imamov. "Regarding the renewing of the contract, I think for Hearts this can be interesting – not to buy a new player but to sign a free player by the name of Larry Kingston.

"The club know this player, the player knows the club, the fans know him and he knows the championship in Scotland. He does not need to time to adapt and there would be no money to pay for a transfer fee. I think Larry Kingston can be the most interesting signing for Hearts in the next transfer window.

"On Sunday I had a chat with Larry and we discussed how happy he is. He likes it in Scotland. Everything depends on his performance and the opinion of the club. After the season we will sit and discuss it. We know the club management well and I think if Hearts have an interest in the player then we can find a solution. It's not a problem."