BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
CRAIG LEVEIN has revealed that Hearts wonderkid Harry Cochrane is on the cusp of penning a new contract with the capital club.
The precocious 16-year-old has been a revelation since making his senior debut this term, enjoying 19 appearances and scoring his first goal for the Jambos in a 4-0 win over Celtic in December, helping to end the champions’ 69-game domestic unbeaten run.
Naturally, his progress has drawn admiring glances from elsewhere, with the likes of Leeds United and Brighton credited with an interest in the classy midfielder.
However, Levein has confirmed that Cochrane is set to commit his long-term future to Hearts and has urged the youngster to get more than 100 games under his belt before he even considers departing Gorgie.
He said: “We’re re-negotiating a contract with Harry Cochrane which will hopefully be done soon, there will be more news shortly on that I am sure.
“Harry has had an amazing start to his football career but I would like to get two or three more seasons out of him – 100-odd games at least – before he does anything else. We want to keep a hold of our best young players so they can benefit us much more than just a handful of games.
“He has played a lot more matches than I could ever have imagined and I have almost taken out of my thought process the fact he is just a bairn – because he hasn’t played like one. I think it’s important that the performances he has had are recognised.”
As Levein moves to tie down the jewel in the crown of Hearts’ academy, he has also confirmed he wants to retain the oldest member of his playing staff – 38-year-old Aaron Hughes.
The Northern Ireland internationalist, who is the most-capped defender in British football history with 109 outings for his country, is out of contract this summer and ahead of their victory over South Korea last month revealed he was weighing up whether to hang up his boots in the close season.
However, Levein has no doubt the veteran stopper has the fitness and professionalism to play on and, recalling his own apprenticeship alongside legendary full-back Sandy Jardine, believes the influence of Hughes is impossible to overstate.
He continued: “If there is ever a player who is capable of playing another year at his age then it is Aaron.
“I would like him to stay, not just because of what he does on the field – where he is very consistent – but for his lifestyle, the way he treats other people and his humility as a person.
“It is great for me to have him, Don [Cowie], Christophe [Berra] and Steven [Naismith] in the dressing room as examples to the young players.
“I put the onus on the kids to ask these guys questions. If it was me I’d be asking every question I could think of! I lived through it myself and I understand the benefits of that. I look back to my time as a player and I never stop talking about how grateful I was to Sandy Jardine for helping me, on and off the field, to become a professional footballer.
“Elvis [Steven Pressley] did it with Andy Webster, now Christophe and Aaron are doing it with John Souttar.
“I walked past the video analysis room recently and Aaron was in there with [Scotland under-17 internationalist] Chris Hamilton. Chris is 16 and he’s going into a dressing room with Aaron, who has played hundreds of games in the Premiership.
“I can talk to them about things I am still the coach or the teacher, or however you want to put it. They’re in the dressing room with these guys who have all that experience. So it would be crazy not to take advantage of that.”
Levein has not ruled out Hughes stepping into a coaching position, adding: “There is always room in the academy for people to help out, but that is something that Aaron would have to want to do. He has committed more than 20 years of his life to being a football player, and coaching is another 30 years or more.”
Hughes’ future, along with the fate of Prince Buaben, whose contract expires at the end of the campaign, will become clearer in the aftermath of Hearts final match before the split against Aberdeen tomorrow.
He confirmed: “I have made decisions, but I don’t want to go public with who is staying and who isn’t until I get the opportunity to sit down with them – which I will do next week.”