If there`s one thing we`ve learned over these last 5 years, it`s to expect the unexpected from Vladimir Romanov – for better or for worse (well, mostly worse it seems). For every positive action, there seems to be a handful of embarrassments and poor decisions which he has inflicted on our club.
The recent articles on Vital Hearts have tried to lay out what the UBIG project might be all about, and I came to the conclusion that since money objectives and fans` aspirations seldom sit well together, we had little option but to close our eyes and just hope for the best as the Romanov rollercoaster trundles on, throwing our emotions from side to side.
However developments at Tynecastle in the last 3 weeks have made me think that Hearts fans have now been dealt a pretty decent hand in the difficult art of keeping us happy – either by clever planning or just by sheer accident. Let`s consider some reasons to be cheerful ?well?. a good bit less pessimistic, at least !!
Over the next few days, we`ll look at the recent comments by Sergejus Fedotovas regarding the stadium.
For now, let`s concentrate on the appointment of Jim Jefferies. Romanov is on record as having said “I don`t envisage a Scottish manager at Hearts in the foreseeable future”, following Mark McGhee’s rejection of the manager vacancy in 2008. It was as if this slap in the face had simply re-inforced Romanov’s “mafia” view of Scottish football people, formed after the Burley and Pressley incidents. The best we could probably hope for were lowly European/English coaches for years to come – like Csaba Laszlo.
Now, I think Csaba did an excellent job of steadying the ship, and getting the squad playing a style of football which would make “Top 6” very likely. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with Csaba as a coach, and his interview style was certainly unique. However the value of having a trusted Football Director in place is now evident – Aleksandr Metlitski`s job is to assess the performance of the manager and coaches in terms of meeting the policies of the Board. Romanov had already stated the policy – recruit young talented players with re-sale potential, either from within the Academy or using a very limited transfer budget. It seems very likely to me that Metlitski alerted Romanov to the fact that Csaba was not doing enough to support this policy – publicly criticising some young players` performances and claiming that the team`s goalscoring problems could only be solved if the owner agreed to sign the likes of Izale McLeod (who incidentally has hardly been a roaring success at Peterborough). The serious seeds of doubt over Csaba were sown in Romanov`s mind in December.
The quick replacement of Csaba with JJ was most likely a piece of opportunism on the part of the Board, before Dundee Utd or Motherwell could make a move for the recently sacked Killie boss. Romanov appears to have met our new manager on a few occasions in the past, and noted his exploits and enthusiasm for the club. His track record of loyalty and relative success at Falkirk and Kilmarnock will only have enhanced his CV as far as Vladimir was concerned – and at the age of 59, he would be unlikely to chase another job once appointed at Hearts. Perhaps Romanov saw JJ as an exception to his “mafia” view – so it is important for us all that JJ`s tenure is a long one, which might help to persuade the owner that he can`t tar all Scots with the same brush.
Romanov himself started off the youth policy in 2007 by bringing youngsters like Kostadinov and Copil from abroad – however he seems to have just expected these boys to settle and mature on the back of the temporary puppet coaches and an assortment of Kaunas players being imported during the same era. It took 2 years before Romanov finally seemed to realise why his policy wasn’t working ? Namely, the lack of proper and experienced football management. Csaba was appointed with the right intentions, but he didn`t seem to devote enough attention to the development of our young players. Now, the new “JJ era” offers a great opportunity to show just how a knowledgeable and experienced football management team can benefit everyone – owner, players, coaches and fans.
Jefferies has arrived at Hearts at exactly the right time too, with the number of U-21 players breaking into the first-team squad now the highest for many decades. Many of them seem genuinely talented, with the best perhaps being Craig Thomson, Ridgers, Robinson, Templeton and Novikovas. Others like Danny Thomson, Rocky Visconte and Ryan McGowan might feature next season, while I’ve read reports which suggest there are many more very promising youngsters in the 16-18 age group coming through – Jamie Walker, David Smith, Jason Holt, Dale Carrick, Chris Kane and Fraser Mullen among them. Remember, each of these boys represents a lot of potential income for UBIG – but equally, the team can expect to get the benefit of their talent football for several years if they are coached and used well. This is where the financial objective of the Board and the football aspirations of the fans can hopefully overlap – at long last !! So it`s important that the coaching and promotion process is right at the club – and I`m convinced that JJ is a better bet than Csaba to get this right. It is also worth noting that JJ was successful in persuading Romanov to appoint a 3rd member of his coaching team – Gary Locke. Although modern football has almost removed the notion of long-service, having Locke on board offers a possible succession plan several years down the line if and when JJ decides to call it a day – assuming Vladimir allows him to last that long !!
The instant signing of Ryan Stevenson from Ayr United for a modest fee was encouraging – with JJ admitting he would have signed another if the price had been right. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Romanov will sanction the spending of money on more players identified by JJ. A return to the old days of “regime mercenaries” would not be welcomed by the fans, and would certainly test Jefferies’ loyalty and patience. However, let`s stay positive about the future on the basis that JJ seems to be aligned with the Romanov policy, and has quickly tried to sort out the various issues surrounding Nade, Kingston and Goncalves. Given that Romanov allowed Csaba to bring in 3 of his players in 2008, the evidence shows that the owner is willing to trust his manager – at least in the early days. So long as JJ`s work is seen by Metlitski and Fedotovas to be prudent and aligned to policy, then I think Romanov will continue to trust him. Results may well be erratic for a while, but at least we now have a vision of a younger and more attack-minded team being built, with a decent supply of replacement youngsters being groomed to succeed those being sold.
Do you also sense better days ahead for Hearts ?