• Michael Stewart: lost captaincy last weekend. Picture: SNS
Stewart was informed of the decision to strip him of the captaincy just minutes before the team left the dressing-room prior to Saturday's 2-0 defeat against Motherwell, and the breakdown in relationship between the player and management spells the end for the 29-year-old at Tynecastle.
Stewart has been involved in three rounds of contract extension talks with the club since last year, but will move to the continent this summer with a sour taste in his mouth after Saturday's experience, when he was also substituted at half-time.
Stewart is understood to be upset at the circumstances surrounding the loss of the captaincy to Lithuanian centre-half Marius Zaliukas. Manager Jim Jefferies later explained that Stewart had been predecessor Csaba Laszlo's choice as captain.
"Michael was made captain here by the previous manager," said Jefferies. "It does not matter if he's been captain here before, I'm in charge now and I'm at looking at things differently."
The last round of contract talks with the club were held earlier this month and the offer of a new deal was made in person by Vladimir Romanov during the major shareholder's most recent visit to Edinburgh. According to a source, Romanov warned him that his career "could be over before he knew it".
But if he signed on again with Hearts, he could then move on to "bigger and greater things".
Stewart's reluctance to commit himself to the Tynecastle club appears to have led to the same unhappy cutting of ties experienced by Jose Goncalves, who has played only twice since turning down a new deal in January.
Stewart is sure to have been upset at his treatment given his status as skipper. "The way it has been handled is not respectful to him in any form," a source told The Scotsman.
Stewart has earned his side nine points this season with goals in 1-0 victories. Another goal from the penalty spot earned Hearts a 1-0 win over Celtic in the quarter-final of the Co-Operative Insurance Cup, just days after being ironically cheered when substituted during a league match against Falkirk.
The player provokes strong feeling among the fans, who either love him or hate him. He has had a low profile since the arrival of Jefferies compared to the one he enjoyed under Laszlo, with whom Stewart got on well.
Stewart signed a three-year deal at Hearts after departing Hibernian in 2007. It was his second spell at the Tynecastle club, having played for a season under John Robertson when on loan from Manchester United. He now wants the opportunity to try something new before he turns 30.
Stewart is expected to continue his career on the continent, and has been linked with a move to Cypriot side Omonia Nicosia, where he could team up with former Hearts players Bruno Aguiar and Christos Karipidis.