BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HEARTS expect to complete the signing of cult hero David Milinkovic after agreeing a fee with Genoa – while veteran defender Aaron Hughes has extended his career by penning a new one-year deal with the Jambos.
Milinkovic, 24, emerged as a firm fans’ favourite after spending last season on loan from Genoa, scoring six goals in 26 appearances, including a brace in their stunning 4-0 triumph over Celtic last December.
The Frenchman is contracted to the Serie A outfit until the summer of 2019 and it was reported that Hearts were initially quoted £600,000 to buy the player outright, which would be outwith Craig Levein’s budget.
Hearts officials were last night awaiting a response from Milinkovic’s representatives as the parties begin the process of discussing terms, however club sources were reluctant to put a timeframe the switch being completed.
Nevertheless, the capital club are understood to be confident that an agreement will be struck.
One man who will definitely be at Tynecastle next term is Hughes.
The 38-year-old, who joined Hearts in January 2017 following a stint with Kerala Blasters in India, has made 35 appearances for the club, including a consistent run at the tail-end of last season which saw him play 10 of their last 12 Premiership fixtures.
He spent the summer weighing up whether to call time on a fine playing career that has encompassed spells with Newcastle, Fulham and Aston Villa, but has ultimately accepted the offer that was tabled by Levein.
“I needed a little bit of time to figure out if I was able to do another year, mentally and physically,” said Hughes. “I came to the decision that I’d like to stay on and I’m very grateful to the club for giving me the opportunity.
“The club has been great with me since I came back from abroad, so there was no hard decision to carry on after I knew that I could do.”
Hughes, already Britain’s most capped defender with 112 appearances for Northern Ireland, is hopeful that his decision will extend his international career as Michael O’Neill’s men embark on the Nations League and Euro 2020 qualification.
Hughes lined up in friendlies against Panama and Costa Rica during the close season as his commitment to his country shows no sign of wavering.
“I want to stay fit and get game-time at Hearts,” he continued. “And if there is still a chance for me to play at an international level, I’d love to do that. That’s another reason why I decided to carry on for another year.”
Hughes will be afforded an extended break following his international exploits however, when he does return to pre-season training, he will be confronted with a new-look Hearts squad.
Steven MacLean, Bobby Burns, Jake Mulraney, Olly Lee, Uche Ikpeazu, Ben Garuccio, Zdenek Zlamal and Ryan Edwards have all arrived, while the capture of fellow centre-half Peter Haring is imminent.
And he reckons the reinvigorated Jambos must target a tilt at a trophy.
“We would love a trophy here. That was something we set out for last season and, unfortunately, didn’t get,” he told Hearts TV. “There’s no reason that can’t be the target this year. We have made some really good signings to strengthen the squad and the priority should be to bring some silverware.”