Whether for the rest of this season or as soon as the next one begins, it seems increasingly likely that Hearts will have to prepare for life without John Souttar.
The Scottish defender’s contract is up in the summer and is expected to agree a pre-contract deal with a new club next month.
Hearts still have a bid on the table but Souttar is keen to test himself in the south, with Tony Mowbray’s Blackburn Rovers expected to lead the race.
The Premiership is on winter break and Souttar will take the opportunity to speak in person with interested clubs before action resumes on January 18.
If he does sign one, then Hearts must decide whether to cash in the nominal fee now or keep his star center until the summer. Robbie Neilson has already indicated a preference for the latter.
But how does Hearts replace Souttar and with whom? Ball-playing centre-backs, especially of Souttar’s ability, are hard to come by so it may not be the same and as always it depends on who is available.
soccer scotland looks at some potential solutions for the Tynecastle club.
Definitely the Hearts closest to Souttar in terms of style, although he has had to fill in on the right wing most of the time this season.
He did well though and showed he was comfortable with the ball and able to get it out from the back, although he lacked Souttar’s passing range.
Physically he is taller than Souttar, but both are athletic and capable of handling the rough edges of the Scottish Premiership.
If Souttar leaves in January, then sliding Moore into a centre-back on the right side with Michael Smith or new Nathaniel Atkinson at right-back would be an easy solution.
It’s one that may not be available next season.
Moore will have a year left on his contract with Bristol City, but recently explained how playing for Hearts “felt good” and would certainly be willing to make the move permanent.
He doesn’t seem to be in the plans at Ashton Gate, but that doesn’t mean they’ll just let him go for nothing, although he seemed hopeful something might be worked out.
Even then, a reported salary of £7,000 a week and southern interests could put him beyond Hearts’ reach, although they have other advantages over interested parties.
A different type of defender to Souttar but a player we know Robbie Neilson likes and Findlay told Football Scotland exclusively he was aware of Tynecastle’s interest.
He said: “The Hearts thing – I knew there was interest there, but it was never something that would really overshadow the MLS thing at this point in my career, which was really exciting. .
“It’s hypothetically difficult, because anything can happen,” he adds.
“I could play every minute of every MLS game and decide that I want to stay there for the rest of my career. I could have a year without playing and these two clubs are not interested at all.
“In football it is really difficult to look to the future.
“Even my father was asking me the other day ‘Oh, what do you want to do?’ I was like ‘it’s impossible’.
“If you said to me two months before I moved to Philadelphia – ‘Do you want to move to Philadelphia?’ It wasn’t something that had ever crossed my mind.
“That’s when those opportunities come. You have to take it day by day and if something comes up and it’s the right time for you, then it’s the right time for you.
Hearts were keen to sign Findlay last summer before he opted to head to MLS side Philadelphia Union.
However, he hasn’t featured regularly across the pond and has a year left on his contract, so he may have a decision to make, especially if he hopes to feature in more Scottish teams under Steve Clarke.
Has worked with Hearts assistant Lee McCulloch before and if the Jambos qualify for Europe next season, that could prove to be an attractive proposition.
The former Falkirk youngster has spent the past decade playing in England for Huddersfield, Scunthorpe United and more recently Millwall.
Is out of contract at the end of the season so a return north of the border at a good level, especially if there is European football on offer, may appeal. At 28, he may never have the same opportunity again, especially outside of Scotland.
On the left side, again, it wouldn’t be a replacement like Souttar, but with Stephen Kinglsey yet to sign a new contract, it might be worth considering anyway.
Can also work at left-back and would add some versatility to the backline, especially if a deal can’t be struck to bring Alex Cochrane back next season and another dominant aerial centre-back wouldn’t hurt the side or in place of Craig Halkett, who is yet another out of contract.
A less obvious suggestion, but not without merit.
Haring was initially signed as a centre-back by Craig Levein but proved to be a revelation in midfield.
A long-term pelvic injury robbed him of more than a year of football, but he’s back in the fold now under Robbie Neilson.
He’s had to be patient during playing time this season, but an injury to Beni Baningime gave him his chance and he found his old self in the center of the park.
However, it remains to be seen if that will continue once Baningime are fit again, with him and the favorite midfield duo of Cammy Devlin Neilson.
But when one door closes in football, another tends to open.
Haring has previously played at fullback for Hearts, albeit at the center of a four. One of his biggest assets is his long-range passing, as he is more than capable of playing passes and maintaining possession as Hearts attack.
So stepping into the role of Souttar on the right of a back three might suit the Austrian, and the prospect of regular playing time, albeit in a different position, might make it easier to persuade him to sign a new contract, if Hearts is inclined to keep it past the summer.