CRAIG LEVEIN has confirmed that Hearts are in the midst ‘difficult’ contract talks with prodigious defender Aaron Hickey as the Tynecastle club seek to stave off interest from a host of high-profile suitors.
English champions Manchester City are taking a keen interest in Hickey’s progress and, as part of the ongoing monitoring of their loan winger Ryo Meshino, it is understood City had a representative at Easter Road to witness the Jambos’ 2-1 victory over Hibernian on Sunday.
Hickey, who only turned 17 in June, turned in a performance of remarkable poise and maturity despite playing both right wing-back and left-back over the course of a frenetic fixture. The display was capped by his sensational late winner from distance.
“We’re in the middle of that [contract negotiations] just now,” said Levein. “It’s been quite difficult.
“He doesn’t have an agent. I’ve been dealing with his dad and it’s been a little bit drawn out.
“However, it’s not bothering the boy. It’s not something he’s overly concerned about.
“Aaron just turns up, does his work, then goes home. He’s so low-maintenance you wouldn’t know he was in the building.”
Levein, however, remains confident that the parties will come to an agreement. And he has no doubt that an extended run as a first-team player at Tynecastle would be immeasurably more beneficial than playing youth football elsewhere.
Hickey can already count a Scottish Cup final against Celtic, an encounter against the Hoops at Parkhead and an Edinburgh derby among his 12 appearances since debuting on May 10.
“We’ll get there in the end,” continued Levein. “It’s like any young player who’s playing. There’s always going to be interest. The big thing for him is he is getting game-time. For kids his age, getting first-team football is the hardest thing to get.
“He’s a 17-year-old who has played nearly every match since he got into the team. He’s improving. He’s doing everything that I ask him to do – and more.”
The Hickey-inspired triumph briefly alleviated some of the pressure on embattled manager Levein, with the enmity of a mass protest outside Tynecastle eight days earlier forgotten amid the wild celebrations of a pivotal victory.
“Our league position doesn’t allow me to celebrate,” added Levein, when asked whether he also allowed himself a moment to soak up the result. “We have to do a lot better. It’s a start, that’s all. There’s no time for celebrating just now.
“We haven’t done anything yet to send a message to anyone that we’ve turned the corner other than get three points.”
Next up in Hearts’ bid to ensure a memorable trip to Leith does not prove to be a false dawn is Wednesday evening’s Betfred Cup quarter-final against Aberdeen.
While some supporters remain steadfast in their belief that Levein must go – it would be churlish to suggest one victory has addressed a lengthy malaise – securing a place in a major semi-final would be another sizable step in the right direction.
“Beating Aberdeen is always a difficult thing to do but if we can do that it will help,” continued Levein. “Then we have a different test at the weekend against St Mirren, so we need to prove we can deal with those situations.
“If we get two reasonable results I’ll be feeling a lot better, but there’s a lot of work to do.”