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Winning with Hearts is goal for Neilson

Published Date: 05 May 2009
CONTRACT discussions between Robbie Neilson and the Hearts hierarchy are well underway with the club captain due to meet majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov for further negotiations within the next fortnight.
Neilson is confident of extending his current agreement, which expires at the end of the season, and of helping manager Csaba Laszlo challenge the Old Firm duopoly next season. He senses Hearts are on the cusp of a new era of prosperity under the charismatic Hungarian and remains unmoved by speculation of interest from Rangers manager Walter Smith.

In a candid Evening News interview, Neilson explained that his priority for this summer is to remain a Hearts player. He has already discussed the issue in detail with both Laszlo and Anatoli Korobochka, the club's sports director, and is now awaiting a face-to-face meeting with Romanov.

"I hope to be staying here. I've spoken to Anatoli and the manager a few times. Once we qualify for Europe I'll speak with them again and I'll speak with Mr Romanov to decide what's going to happen," he said.

"I'm not resigned to leaving at all. I'm hopeful that I'll stay, it's just about getting the contract sorted out. I've been here a long time and contracts take a while to finalise. There are always wee odds and ends here and there. I'm sure we'll get it sorted."

Neilson has conducted most of the negotiations in person rather than using his agent, English-based Mark Donaghy, as a buffer. "I've been speaking to the club myself, talking with Anatoli and the manager," he continued. "To be honest, it's mainly down to Anatoli. The manager has spoken to me and said he wants to keep me, so it's now a case of getting something sorted out with the club.

"Mr Romanov is going to meet me in the next couple of weeks to discuss my future.

"I'd love to stay, I'd love to try and win a title with Hearts. I know the manager is very focused on doing that and bringing in players. Hopefully he'll be allowed to do it and I can stay and bring some success."

Six games short of his 250th appearance for the club, Neilson joined Hearts in 1996 aged 16 from Rangers' youth development programme. His enthusiasm for the cause and willingness to negotiate a new contract is testament to Laszlo's galvanising effect at Tynecastle this season. The club are currently third in the SPL and strongly placed for qualification to the inaugural UEFA Europa League following an ignominious eighth-place finish last term.

Neilson, 28, stressed that playing European football next year is paramount to his future. "I think it is. If you're going to stay at the club then they need to be successful," he said. "The manager has said he wants to keep me whether we qualify or not, but to me we need to qualify for Europe. The club needs to be successful. If they are, I can hopefully stay."

This season's rejuvenation hints at the potential within the current first-team squad, although much depends on how active Romanov intends to be this summer. Laszlo has furnished his paymaster with a list of intended signing targets but any recruitment drive must be balanced against a measured reduction in operating costs at Tynecastle, most notably a burdensome wage bill.

Neilson, Christos Karipidis and Bruno Aguiar are the high earners whose contracts are nearing expiry but only the full-back has a realistic chance of extending his. Karipidis has already signed a pre-contract agreement with the Cypriot club Omonia Nicosia. Aguiar is exploring other opportunities through his Portuguese agent, Paulo Barbosa, in an effort to match a salary which can exceed 750,000 Euros a year including bonuses.

"I don't find it difficult to focus or anything. As soon as you're on the park you forget all about the contract situation, you're just thinking of trying to play well.

"It's not an issue for anyone because we're all professionals," said Neilson. "Karipidis, although he's going to be leaving at the end of the season, put in another great display against Rangers the other day. Bruno is the same. There are a few boys, like myself, who are unsure of the future but it's not going to affect the team.

"This close season is going to be very important for Hearts. If we keep our players and invest, we have a great opportunity to progress next year. We went to Ibrox on Sunday and dominated. Okay, we got beat, but hopefully the performance is a sign of things to come and I'd like to be part of it. I think next year, if the manager can get his way and bring in four, five or maybe even six players, we have a great chance to challenge the Old Firm. That would be fantastic to be involved in.

"If he can get the funds to bring players in and shape the team up over the close season, I think it could be a great time in Hearts' history as we will try to win the league." Laszlo has manoeuvred himself into an advantageous position for persuading Romanov to release funds for new recruits. As Neilson and many others have noticed, the Hungarian and the Russian benefit from a mutual understanding and trust which most of Laszlo's predecessors could not lay claim to.

"The manager is a good character and I think Mr Romanov has taken a shine to him," continued Neilson.

"He can see we're heading in the right direction and hopefully he'll have faith in the manager and trust him to do the right thing for the club over the summer.

"I have a good relationship with the manager, who is a fantastic coach and man-manager. He's excellent tactically and he's good with the players.

"It's great he's said that he wants me to stay. Being captain is fantastic, Hearts is a great club to captain and it's a real honour. It's not something I'm going to give up lightly."

Taken from the Scotsman

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