CALUM Elliot is back home and restless.
Homesickness is a recurring problem for Scottish footballers who move abroad during their careers yet Elliot seems not to have been affected. Having been with Zalgiris Vilnius since January this year, scoring freely and enjoying football more than he has for several years, he is looking for a new club. Unusually, and refreshingly, he is enthusiastic about only using Scotland as a pit-stop before swapping Lithuania for another foreign adventure.
Elliot uprooted himself from Scotland to begin a new chapter in Vilnius after nearly nine years on Hearts' books and loan spells at Motherwell, Livingston and Dundee. He needed something he had never enjoyed since a series of persistent knee injuries began to derail his progress: regular first-team football.
A director at Zalgiris Vilnius – a club in Lithuania, but not under Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov's control – had a previous Tynecastle connection and was interested when he heard Elliot was available. An offer was made and the rangy, talented striker, now 25, took the plunge. It began one of the happiest spells of his career.
"A year ago I felt like I had to start again," he said. "In Lithuania I've had my best year in terms of consistency. It was probably the first time I've enjoyed playing football again for God knows how long, because I didn't have injuries and was actually training every day. In the past I was training maybe once or twice a week and then trying to play on a Saturday. I don't have any problems with the knees now. It's probably the best condition I've been in for years."
He signed a two-year deal with Zalgiris but had made his mind up to stay for only one, intending to move on once his fitness and form had returned. Zalgiris said they would not make things difficult, grateful for the 30-plus goals he scored in their colours in more than 50 appearances.
"Before the end of the season I spoke with the chairman and he asked my thoughts on the next season and I told him I wouldn't be coming back. He understood that I only ever really wanted to stay for a year, to get back to playing regularly. As far as I'm led to believe, I would be free to join anyone else in January. He said he wouldn't stand in my way. I want to play at a higher level again now.
"Lithuania was difficult at times because it was the first time I'd been away from home for a long period. I spent a lot of time alone and it's not a predominantly English-speaking country, so that was quite difficult, but it does make you grow up as a person as well; it's good to experience that and it opens your eyes to a lot. But in terms of football it was everything I could have wanted. I could have gone to a bigger club and just been a squad player but I didn't want that, I just wanted to be playing."
For now, he is back in his home city, Edinburgh, and may contact former colleagues at Hearts while he is here. The club played Celtic at Tynecastle this week and one of his finest games came in that fixture on New Year's Day, 2006, when he gave Stephen McManus a rough time before Celtic came from behind to win 3-2. The match was played in a pulsating atmosphere and larger crowds is one thing he missed while in Lithuania.
"There has been some interest from clubs in different places and I would like to try a different experience again. I'd like to go abroad again, I think it would be good for my career.
"The easier option is to just to take an offer back in Scotland. But I like the idea of going to a good club somewhere. I wouldn't want to go back to the same kind of place as before – no disrespect to them – but maybe somewhere with big crowds."