Out with the old, and in with the old. A new manager for Hearts, but a familiar story for all concerned. Paulo Sergio was apparently holed up in an Edinburgh hotel on Sunday night waiting to be outed as the latest manager of Heart of Midlothian. This was all going on while the departing Jim Jefferies was being informed he had outlived his shelf life in the job.
Vladimir Romanov, Soviet submariner turned Lithuanian banker and a somewhat rabid owner of Hearts, even popped up on the old club's training ground on Tuesday with a golf umbrella and the initials 'VR' stamped on his Umbro training top. The message was clear: Sergio may be the new manager, but Romanov is firmly in control.
If Sergio has sense, the hotel might be the best place for him to remain for a while. Temporary accommodation would certainly appear to be the thinking man's choice when one is drinking from such a shabby chalice.
Romanov was a lot safer in his Soviet submarine during the Cold War than any unsuspecting coach occupying the technical area at Tynecastle. The era of Glasnost has yet to reach Romanov in his workings in Scotland. This is a position with a mortality rate that makes the Chelsea manager's job feel like a steady gig under Roman Abramovich.
Romanov has owned Hearts since 2005. He rids himself of managers with gay abandon: John Robertson (seven months), George Burley (five months), Graham Rix (four months), Valdas Ivanauskas (11 months), Eduard Malofeev (six months), Anatoly Korobochka (seven months), Stephen Frail (seven months), Csaba Laszlo (18 months) and Jefferies (18 months) have all been scalped. And so it goes on. Nine managers in seven years, and counting. These are quite a depressing series of sporting autopsies.
As Robert De Niro's character mutters in the heist movie Heat: "Never get attached to anything you are not prepared to walk out on in 30 seconds flat, if you feel the heat around the corner." This is especially true when Romanov is around that corner.
There is a blurring of the lines among some followers of Hearts, who appear to feel Romanov was justified in ousting Jefferies. A 3-2 win over St Mirren in March was the club's last win in the SPL. This was held up as reason for dismissal, but fails to consider the injuries and suspensions that beset the club with an ailing Kevin Kyle and Calum Elliot, among others, missing lengthy spells at key junctures of the season.
Hearts drew five of their last eight matches last season, losing their final three games to Rangers, Celtic and Dundee United, the three sides enveloping them in the SPL. They were sturdy enough to finish third. Where else were they expected to wind up in a league that has not been won by a club outside of Rangers and Celtic since Aberdeen managed it 26 years ago?
Jefferies was probably evicted because he has been a familiar part of the scenery in Scottish football, an environment that has made Romanov bristle over the years. Jefferies was in his second period as manager of the club having carted off the Scottish Cup in 1998. He deserved more than 18 months to set out his agenda for a second time.
Having been given a mandate to recruit new men during the close season, he must have thought he was on steady ground after collecting a point from SPL champions Rangers on the opening day of the season. To dismiss a manager only two games into a new season may be the scheming of a lateral thinker. Otherwise, it merely shows contempt for several thousand customers who have unearthed good money for season tickets. Like Jefferies, the diehards deserved better.
Romanov is known to appreciate a spot of interference. Club owners meddling in a manager's plans rarely leads to a satisfactory ending. Captain Marius Zaliukas sat out a 4-0 loss to Rangers in May on the orders of Romanov which suggests Jefferies's position was already compromised. A manager embarking upon such a job must have eyes in the back of his head.
Sergio's last position as a manager was running Sporting Lisbon last season. He spent six months there before being sacked moments after Rangers had ousted the Portuguese team from the Europa League. He may not last as long as Hearts coach. This is a figure with a quite unremarkable past in coaching clubs in his native Portugal.
Protests over Romanov's conduct seem futile because he keeps the club alive. Hearts carried debts of around £25 million at the last time of checking. There are not too many out there who would be willing to pick up Romanov's tab if he decides he has seen enough. Sheikh Mansours do not grow on trees. They tend not to come to places like Scotland, as Rangers have found out in recent times. It is not a place to maximise one's potential.
Hearts is a toy for Romanov's whims. This man has attitude. He was apparently only denied a run at becoming president of Lithuania because he was born in Russia.
It is his club and he will do whatever he sees fit, as he sees fit. Trigger-happy, mad, or cut-throat? Call it what you will, Romanov pays the bills, he makes the decisions, however chaotic it may seem to those outside looking in. More pertinently, here is a figure Hearts cannot live with, or without.
- Vladimir Romanov
- Jim Jefferies
- Paulo Sergio