JAMBOS' CHAMPIONS LEAGUE JOY Hearts chief fears no one as he sets a target of last 16
By James Traynor
TYNECASTLE chairman Roman Romanov insists Hearts will have nothing to fear when they tackle Europe's elite in the Champions League.
Before you ask, let it be made clear the heir to the Tynecastle throne wasn't under the influence of 70 per cent proof euphoria when he spoke.
This constantly-calculating young leader doesn't do hyperbole.
Unlike many in the football business he thinks before he speaks and, having watched his side successfully split Scotland's big two, Romanov now expects them to go on and cause a few upsets within Europe's elite.
He is not saying Hearts will win UEFA's premier competition but he does believe that, with the addition of a few new players who will be bought in during the summer, it should be possible to reach the last 16.
While his father and club owner, Vladimir, was cavorting about the Tynecastle directors' box and then the pitch with the players, the son remained detached. He preferred to look on from the fringes and was already thinking about tomorrow and what must be done if Hearts are to maintain their remarkable progress.
He said: "Now we've qualified for the Champions League we need to strengthen some positions. What's good enough for the Scottish League won't be good enough for Europe and we will have to bring two or three players in for competition. To qualify for the group stage would be fantastic.
"If we do, we'll see what happens from that but Rangers are a good example. No one really thought they would do much but they were knocked out only on away goals and I think we have shown we're not far away from Rangers.
"Sometimes we played better than them this season so that might suggest we can reach the last 16.
"It's a dream, of course, and although it will take concentration and a lot of hard work I don't think it's impossible."
Having become the first team in 11 years to come between Celtic and Rangers, second place might not be good enough for the Romanovs next time around.
They believe what they have done with Hearts heralds the end of the Old Firm's dominance and they'll continue to strive for what many might regard as the impossible. The championship itself will be at the top of next season's agenda.
"Why not?" Romanov asked. "Celtic can win the league next year but Rangers can also win it. Three clubs, I think, have a good chance so why not Hearts?
"I don't even think it's going to be a three-horse race because Hibernian are not a bad team.
"They just need to strengthen a couple of positions up front and they might be very competitive.
"Rangers are not a bad team and hopefully we have set a good example to other clubs who might be able to look up to us and also compete with Celtic and Rangers.
"It's not so interesting when there are only two teams in the league but what we have just done feels great.
"It was a very tense night and we knew that Aberdeen were not going to be easy to beat so all credit must go to the players. They were strong and had more chances than Aberdeen.
"But I would like to thank all the fans who carried us through the season, especially on Wednesday night when everyone could sense their tension with Rangers not far away. They were an extra player on the pitch."
Often, however, it seemed Hearts were hell bent on self-destructing and the managerial changes and treatment of certain players - Andy Webster must have felt like a complete outsider as he watched from afar on Wednesday - did not help the team.
But with powerful influences such as captain Steven Pressley and the supremely confident Paul Hartley in the dressing room, belief wasn't allowed to ebb.
Yet Romanov remains convinced the dismissals were an essential part of the progress.
He said: "I think it was necessary to make the managerial changes. I would like to stress to everyone that we are not illogical people who make decisions without any reasons.
"There were reasons and we felt we couldn't react any other way. Vladimir said at the beginning of the season that we could split the Old Firm and he did it. I think we had a good chance to catch Celtic and Rangers by surprise because I don't think they were ready for us but Celtic managed to pull away and did a good job under pressure.
"We have to congratulate them. It was a good year to catch them off guard but I think that in the games against Celtic we showed we are competitive.
"Some calls didn't go our way in games they won and you can't judge the last match because they didn't really need it.
"We were trying hard because it was a statement for next season and the fact we beat them 3-0 is good for us.
"It brings us more confidence and it is more pressure on them."
Romanov singled out Pressley and Hartley for special mention and thanked them for their contributions to what has been a wonderful season for Hearts, who still have the Tennent's Scottish Cup Final against Gretna to come.
The chairman said: "There's now less pressure on us to win the Cup."
However, no one should believe he doesn't expect Hearts to win with some style. He knows he can trust the likes of Pressley and Hartley and added: "They are unbelievable. You look in their eyes before a game and you are not nervous any more."
He also had a few words of comfort for stand-in manager Valdas Ivanauskas, who looked almost embarrassed by the attention at the end of the 1-0 win against Aberdeen.
Romanov said: "This will help his prospects. Valdas is my main coach, who showed us what he can do in a very difficult last seven games.
"He showed he can carry teams against difficult opponents and I would like to thank him for that."
It was different with Rudi Skacel, who still wants to leave even though he is contracted for two more seasons. The goalscoring midfield player won't, however, be allowed to go on the cheap.
Romanov said: "Before coming to Hearts Rudi signed an agreement and we have exercised the option to have him for two more years.
"He agreed to that and the salary, so it's up to Rudi if he wants to stay. If not, we'll put him on the transfer list and get as much money as possible to replace him. It's up to our lawyers but I don't think he has to sign anything else."
Taken from the Daily Record