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Thursday, 04 August 2011 09:16

Opinion: Sergio drinking from a poisoned chalice

Chronic debt, trigger-happy owner and squealing monkeys

Hearts emblemPaulo SergioPaulo Sergio has arrived at Tynecastle to become the new ‘first team coach’ of Heart of Midlothian. In so doing, he becomes the 11th manager of Russian/Lithuanian owner Vladimir Romanov’s six-year tenure at the Edinburgh club.
The Portuguese, too, has been unwittingly capricious – six teams managed in his homeland in just eight years, most recently at Sporting for a mere matter of months. What fate, then, awaits Sergio in the Scottish capital? With the best will in the world, it’s hard to see this job as anything other than a poisoned chalice.
Hearts are a big club – probably the third-biggest in Scotland – and have a sizeable, noisy and devoted support. Fans of Hibernian FC, Edinburgh’s other representatives in the Scottish top-flight would doubtless disagree ferociously, but Hearts rule the roost in the east, certainly for the moment.


With a decent squad at his disposal – not brimming with stars but certainly more than workmanlike – is there any reason why Sergio cannot kick on in Edinburgh and get his managerial career back on track? There are, sadly, several reasons why not. Chief among them is Hearts’ financial position. The club is in debt to the tune of around £35million and has no assets, other than the players (£8million at a generous estimate for the lot) and is completely at the whim of the owner.
An owner, by the very definition of the word, holds all the cards but if Romanov were to walk away, Hearts would be insolvent and homeless – and they’d undoubtedly fold.  So everything is peachy as long as Romanov hangs about? Not quite. As well as being very cavalier with his hiring and firing of managers, Romanov is like all dictators – he thinks he can do a better job than anyone else. At anything.
The phrase ‘hands on’ was created for this guy and he really is a bit of a nutter; the second reason why Sergio should be wary. Barely a month goes by without some bizarre pronouncement from Romanov’s office popping up on the Hearts website accusing (perm any or all of the following): the Scottish Football Association, the media (a favourite target), his own players, the ‘mafia’ (I never knew Edinburgh was in Sicily and I’ve been living here 20 years. You live, you learn) and various other, unknown, ‘dark forces’ of combining to undo his great works.
Sergio replaced Jim Jeffries, a man whose association with Hearts stretches back 40 years as player and, now, twice previous manager. Jeffries was axed on Monday after a run of 15 games with but a single victory; nonetheless, his sacking came as something of a surprise, and no little anger from sections of the Hearts support.

Squealing media monkeys

The majority of the media couldn’t care less who manages the club, as long as they engage with the press and broadcasters, but Romanov sees subterfuge everywhere and set the scene nicely for what should have been a happy occasion for his new coach by opining thus on the Hearts website this morning: “Judging by the pre-planned squeals the media monkeys are making, Hearts has hit the point with the move. I believe that with only one competitive win in 15 games, only fools and idiots would not raise questions and suspicions.” Nurse!
Were I Sergio, my reaction to this bizarre fanfare would have been short and blunt, even to a new employer. But one goes where the work is, I suppose.
Romanov’s team selection decisions are the stuff of legend, telling whichever poor sod is at the helm who they can and cannot play, often, it seems, on a whim. There won’t be a lot (if any) money to spend and you’ve a lunatic for a boss; it’s hard to see Sergio lasting – Romanov has too much previous for jettisoning managers at the drop of a fur hat and the stats don’t lie. This level of instability does nothing to abet the progress of any football club, let alone one in such a parlous financial state. Scotland national manager Craig Levein – once also a manager at Hearts before Romanov’s reign – said as much in the wake of Jeffries’ departure and you’d imagine he knows what he’s talking about.

Scottish football struggling

Reason three: Scottish football is poorly – there’s little money in the game and a pretty dreadful standard on display at home and in Europe. At Sergio’s unveiling I was aware of how nervous he looked, and there was more than a hint of ‘what am I doing here?’ in the early part of his address before he gained some confidence. He seems a decent sort, and it would be churlish not to wish him well but there’s a suspicion he’s at Tynecastle because he needs a job. Nothing wrong with that, but he shouldn’t get too comfortable. I don’t think this will end well and I’d give it a year – absolute tops.
Sergio’s best bet is to do as well as he can in as short a time frame as he can – then make for the border sharpish.
by John Hunt

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Comments (6)
We Love VR
6 Thursday, 04 August 2011 16:52
Most Hearts fans love VR its the media in Scotland that hate him.
VR is the best thing to have happened to Scottish football in decades.
Jealous fans from other clubs can only bad mouth him and dream of what we can do.
Paulo will love living in Edinburgh and do very well.
Hail Vlad + Paulo - get it right up them!!
Romanov out!!
5 Thursday, 04 August 2011 12:24
ROMANOV is bad news and I've been saying this for a long time, bundling with loads of abuse from FELLOW Hearts fans ridiculously. He is a clown of the highest order and has annoyed many others over the years. I believe that if we fail to rid us of Romanov, we'll be a laughing stock for many years to come.
HMFC Assets
4 Thursday, 04 August 2011 12:05
HMFC own their stadium and some ground around it peak value was £20 million several years ago probably more realistically worth £12-14 million today. Our debt is £30 million.
John Hunt.
3 Thursday, 04 August 2011 11:42
We own Tynecastle.
We are not £35 million in debt.
Why let the facts get in the way of a good rant at Vlad ?
Who is John Hunt anyway ? Never heard of him.
Tick, tock...
2 Thursday, 04 August 2011 11:41
Hearts don't own the ground - Romanov does. Do you see no demarcation between the club and the individual?!
1 Thursday, 04 August 2011 09:37
I did not know we had sold Tynecastle. Thank goodness for enlightening information.

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