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|<-Page||<-Team||Sun 07 May 2006 Rangers 2 Hearts 0||Team->||Page->|
|<-Srce||<-Type||Scotsman ------ Preview||Type->||Srce->|
|Valdas Ivanauskas||<-auth||Moira Gordon||auth->||Iain Brines|
|[K Boyd 36] ;[K Boyd 74]|
|11||of 169||-----||L SPL||A|
Romanov is the king of Hearts
THE end doesn't always justify the means but it can make for one hell of a party. On a night that is likely to prove seminal in the club's history, Hearts secured second place in the Bank of Scotland Premierleague, the first non-Old Firm club to do so since Alex McLeish's Motherwell eleven years ago.
Now they have their sights set on the Scottish Cup. Beyond that, who knows.
That's the thing with Hearts since the Romanov revolution. Everybody strapped themselves in for the ride but no-one knew the final destination. We still don't, but what their first season in the driving seat has revealed is that there will be plenty ups and downs and twists and turns along the way. At times it has been gut-churning but one thing has become abundantly clear: if the Romanovs don't think you have the stomach for it, you'll simply be ejected.
Managers can attest to that, so too board members, backroom staff, players and even newspapers. It has been a season laced with controversy. The negatives linger and will surely resurface but at the moment they are, quite rightly, being overshadowed by the positives.
The pressure is off at Tynecastle. On Friday, faced with the media, the usual barriers were lowered, smiles and quips punctuated the various press conferences, with even Roman Romanov and the usually intense Valdas Ivanauskas getting in on the act. There were even some straight answers to straight questions.
Club chairman Roman Romanov gave the clearest indication yet that Ivanauskas will still be head coach come the start of the new campaign, and he maintained the search is still on for a director of football. The stadium redevelopment will commence by the end of next season at the latest and be along the same lines as Chelsea Village, but there were assurances that the money invested in that venture would not necessitate penny-pinching on the playing side as they have a real tilt at winning the Premierleague title and making their presence felt on the Champions League stage.
Romanov acknowledged that off-field matters had dominated the Lithuanians' first full season in charge more than he, or his father, had wanted but said that when they arrived in Scottish football, they had anticipated a degree of resistance.
"We expected a lot of things. We expected that the press wouldn't always be fair to us. We expected that. A lot of papers work for Celtic and Rangers in this country, it's obvious. Not all of them but a lot of them.
"All the decisions [we made] were difficult but they were made for a reason. They were weighted and thought out and they weren't random sporadic decisions. I wish we didn't change three coaches through the season but we had to and to get this result shows that. I don't think we would do anything different from what we did."
In his programme notes on Wednesday night, Roman Romanov posted a reminder that he had asked that the current club stewards be judged on a season-by-season basis - not daily, weekly or monthly. In that case, no-one could consider their first season at the helm anything but a success. The ifs and buts decree there will always be those who think it could have been even better, those who will argue that the hiring and firing of pivotal personnel may have cost them an even better tilt at the title but there can be no certainties other than those entered into the history books.
As it stands, on top of splitting the Old Firm and unsettling their cosy dominance like no other club or individual since the New Firm challenged and guys such as Alex Ferguson generated a siege mentality within Pittodrie, there is the very real chance of a trophy at Hampden on Saturday, the club's first in eight years. And while they are still a couple of qualifying rounds away from the lucrative and prestigious Champions League group stages, it's a fact that you have to be in it to win it.
The T-shirts worn by the players as they returned to the pitch on Wednesday night said "BELIEVE" and the astonishing fact, given the turmoil that has enveloped the Tynecastle club at times this term, is that the players do. Those who don't will simply be transfer-listed, according to Romanov. Observers and certain sections of the support remain sceptical, afraid of what will happen to Hearts should his father Vladimir's enthusiasm wane. What happens when the tycoon gets bored with the paranoia and the job of balancing chips on his shoulders? What happens if the thrill of hiring and firing, the squabbles with the SFA, the sniping at agents and bickering with the Old Firm and the media becomes too much? What happens if the fans start taking it all for granted and forget to massage his ego? Or what happens if he doesn't fulfil his ambition of winning the Premierleague and, ultimately, the Champions League quickly enough?
At the moment, though, there is no chance of him upping and leaving according to his son. Talking about the investment in the new main stand, the increased capacity, and the scope for making money rather than just haemorrhaging it, he insisted his family are in it for the long haul.
"We need to redevelop the stadium as soon as possible because 17,000 is not enough any more for Hearts. We need to work hard on stadium redevelopment to bring it up to 25,000-26,000, which I think would be perfect for the whole season.
"We will play next season at Tynecastle because we hoped we could do it sooner but there's just too many things that we have to do, but if we can knock down the stand in March then we will do it because we have said to the SFA that we might decide to change grounds in the middle of the season and they are fine with it."
Plans have been drawn up and figures settled. But while refusing to divulge amounts, Romanov admits it is a sizeable investment and one which may never be fully recouped.
"To get it back you fill [the stadium] with bigger crowds and get in more revenue but we are not building just a stand, it will be a whole complex which will bring in revenue on a day-to-day basis. There's going to be a hotel, the opportunity for different events and there's going to be restaurants here. It will give us more diversified incomes, not just all football-based and we feel that we can get our investment back. Of course, it's not the best investment in the world, there are better opportunities in other countries, but Vladimir wants to do it and sometimes it's not about how much you earn and making money but what you do in life and Vladimir is very passionate about football, as you could probably see on Wednesday."
But the promise is that off-field building will not impact on the ongoing restructuring of the squad.
"It's a big investment for the development and it is big money but we feel that to build a stadium without having a team that can, in future, fill it doesn't make sense so we have to be strong and be competitive."
They are qualities the current squad is imbued with, given their performances under pressure. Those who have seen ambition suffocated by Old Firm money in the past know this is a new era. A real opportunity. That's why they wore those T-shirts. They believe in the future of the club and, more importantly, having navigated this most tumultuous of terms, they believe in themselves. This is simply the beginning. On the evidence of this term only the most churlish would disagree. If this was all going to implode, surely this was the season it would have done so. "Of course we want to get the results sooner rather than later, but the most important thing is that we are moving in the right direction and if the results come along the way then fantastic, even better.
"I think that we had a good chance to catch Celtic and Rangers off guard this season and I don't think anybody took us seriously so it was a good year for us to become champions and next year will be more difficult. But I think the players are up to the challenge and the coaching staff and the management are ready to take the challenge."
Barring an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Gretna on Saturday, the indication is that Ivanauskas will be the man charged with meeting those heightening demands.
"He is still learning. Not long ago he was playing so all the advice that he can get from our football organisation people, people who have been here much longer, he will listen to," said the chairman of his fellow Lithuanian. "He learns very fast and most important he's not afraid to make sometimes unpopular decisions. I think he did a fantastic job. I think under pressure and in very difficult games he had six wins out of eight and I think in the Celtic loss, we pushed Celtic to the limit and I think we deserved more that day. I never saw Celtic look so hopeless in a game. They didn't do anything, they just protected their goal.
"I think that you can compare these results with what George Burley did at the beginning of the season because there wasn't so much pressure on George Burley. Valdas came in at the crucial part of the season and had six wins out of eight and George Burley had eight wins so it's very close. All the credit to Valdas, he made some unpopular rotations which Graeme Rix, for some reason, didn't want to do. Some players he rested, some players he brought in and it showed on the pitch. People like Ibrahim Tall came from nowhere. George Burley had put a cross through him at the beginning of the season but now he has been fantastic in the last couple of games."
The introduction and performances of Tall have made it even less likely that Andy Webster will play again for the side, although Romanov says the door is still open. He blames the player's agent but insists he wants the Scotland star to stay.
"There was an offer but Ibrahim has made this offer look very shaky at the moment. We have to sit down. The club has many times offered him a contract and it has been refused by his agent and we also have other players so I wouldn't wait too long or it might be too late.
"I have said many times, if a player wants to move to another club then we will make all the conditions for it. Why keep a player here that doesn't want to be here? But it would be nice to see Hearts players move to bigger clubs, not to take a step back. It would help raise the profile of Hearts. It would be good for the player and the club."
The interim coach will meet the Romanovs after the Cup Final as they plot the future, but will not be given any ultimatum other than to ensure the team keep showing signs of improvement.
"[Qualifying for the Champions League groups] would be very nice. Is it a must or not? It would be fantastic but you cannot say it is a must. You cannot put too much pressure on the players and the coaching staff but we will see. We will work hard and I think the scouts will work hard to bring in about three players to strengthen the squad. We have a very good chance. As I have said we have shown that we are not too far away from Rangers and they did quite well in the Champions League this year."
Not too far away? The league shows they were better and with a huge squad gelling and further additions expected, it could be argued that they will be in a stronger position than Alex McLeish was this term to challenge on several fronts.
On Wednesday the final whistle sounded and Vladimir Romanov was there, perched on the ledge of the executive box, fists punching. No-one could doubt it meant something to the Lithuanian. No-one, listening to the fans could doubt it meant everything.
But with success comes demands. The difference is, for the time being at least, that those of the owner remain higher than those of fans still getting used to the new feeling of superiority.
Vladimir Romanov is considering taking legal action against several newspapers following stories which claimed he had blamed Andy Webster's parents for the defender's current contract stalemate.
The Lithuanian is said to be angry that comments made in an interview earlier this week, stating that some parents could have an influence on their child's development, were taken out of context and used to inflame the situation.
"I never blamed Andy's parents," insisted the Hearts supremo. "I never mentioned Andy's mother or father in the interview. I have never even met his parents so it would be impossible for me to say if they are an influence on the player."
However, Romanov remains adamant the Scotland player is receiving poor advice from his agent, Charlie Duddy, but insists he would like to hold on to Webster. "I am still a huge fan of Andy Webster and his ability. With Steven Pressley he forms the best central defensive partnership in Scotland."
Taken from the Scotsman
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