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|<-Page||<-Team||Sat 05 Jan 2008 Hearts 1 Kilmarnock 1||Team->||Page->|
|<-Srce||<-Type||Scotsman ------ Opinion||Type->||Srce->|
|Stephen Frail||<-auth||Stuart Bathgate||auth->||John Underhill|
|Elliot||[P Di Giacomo 45]|
|16||of 016||Andrius Velicka 63||L SPL||H|
Is time right for Jefferies to mend broken Hearts?
By STUART BATHGATE
JIM Jefferies was a successful manager of Hearts. He knows it, the club's supporters know it, and the current office-bearers know it.
Between July 1995, when he moved from Falkirk, and November 2000, when he left for Bradford City, Jefferies was in charge of a team which consistently challenged for honours. The Scottish Cup win of 1998 was the highlight, but there were also several league campaigns in which Hearts mounted a lasting challenge to the Old Firm.
So, as Campbell Ogilvie and Pedro Lopez, respectively operations director and deputy chief executive at Tynecastle, draw up a shortlist for the vacant managerial post, Jefferies at least has the advantage of being a known quantity. That on its own is not enough to suggest the time is right for him to make a return – indeed, for rigid adherents to the 'never go back' doctrine, it suggests the reverse – but it is surely a start.
Jefferies' commitment to Hearts was there for all to see in his playing days as well as during his stint as manager. A little over seven years on from the end of his first tenure, is the time right for him to return?
The question has to be approached from two different perspectives – that of Jefferies, and that of his potential employers. If one answers 'Yes' and the other 'No', then obviously that's an end to it and the search for a manager heads off in a different direction.
Examining the issue from Jefferies' point of view first, the time does appear to be right. Both because of his current situation at Kilmarnock and because of the present state of Hearts, a move from Ayrshire to Edinburgh would be close to ideal right now.
As the longest-serving manager in the SPL, Jefferies has over-achieved at Kilmarnock. Partly because of injuries, they are down in the bottom six this season, and there is a growing impression they need a fresh start. The shelf life of all but the most successful of managers is strictly limited, and, after nearly six years at Rugby Park, Jefferies is surely coming to the end of his. It is clear that Hearts, who drew 1-1 with Kilmarnock on Saturday, also require a fresh start. They have had no managerial stability since Craig Levein left for Leicester as Vladimir Romanov was still buying into the club, and are in severe need of some coherent planning.
With the resources at their disposal, they should be far higher up the SPL table than their present 11th. It should not take a footballing genius to get them heading back in the right direction, and Jefferies and other potential candidates would back themselves to make a swift impact.
At 57, Jefferies may only have one move left before he stands down from front-line management, and a two or three-year spell back at Tynecastle would fit the bill nicely. He is shrewd enough to know that attempting to stoke up a media campaign for him to get the job would misfire, as Romanov appears to have a pathological dread of doing something which any outsider may have advised him to do. But he is also smart enough to be aware there are ways of at least not discouraging interest from a potential suitor.
"Until the day that a club comes into contact with my chairman, it would be wrong to comment," he said at the weekend when asked if a return to Tynecastle would appeal. If he had no interest in the job, a simple 'No' would have sufficed.
Sceptics continue to suggest no-one in his right mind would want to manage Hearts for as long as Romanov remains in control, but they fail to take two factors into account. First, the salary is attractive enough to make many candidates persuade themselves they are the ones to make Romanov see sense and stop interfering in team selection. Second, the statement on the Hearts website last week about the search for a new manager changed the picture considerably. The new man, it promised, "will have full responsibility for team selection". That promise may only be there to be broken, but it is still far further than Romanov has ever gone before in granting autonomy to a manager.
The main sticking point for Jefferies if he were to enter negotiations about the job could be the continuing role promised in the same announcement for Anatoly Korobochka, Hearts' sport director, and Stephen Frail, the caretaker manager who was previously assistant head coach. Jefferies would want to move with his assistant, Billy Brown, and would seek reassurances he and Brown could get on with the job of running the team without being required to consult the other two at every turn.
If that issue could be settled, it's a fair bet that Jefferies would jump at the job. But, at present, Hearts are some way from accepting he is the best candidate.
They have adopted a more realistic approach than they had in the days when Nevio Scala and Lothar Matthaus were linked with the job, and they stated last week that experience of British football was a pre-requisite. They are also aware the team has to achieve stability and a degree of consistency before any more grandiose goals can be attempted. Jefferies has the experience and would bring about stability, but is not alone in that sense. And, presuming Hearts do not see the 'stability' phase going on for a couple of seasons before they resume the project of trying to challenge Rangers and Celtic and get into the Champions League, their first choice will be a candidate who can first restore order – and then swiftly move on to more remarkable results.
George Burley remains the role model. He inherited a threadbare squad, and, within months, had Hearts at the top of the SPL. When measured against such an example, Jefferies will appear stolid and uninspiring to at least some of the elements within the Tynecastle hierarchy. They will continue to regard Craig Levein, the Dundee United manager, as more suitable.
Levein is expected to turn down any approach, and only then might Hearts turn to Jefferies. If he is to land the job, Jefferies may well have to accept another former manager was first choice.
FIVE MORE CANDIDATES
Like Jefferies, the lure of returning to Hearts where he found success as a player and a manager might appeal to the
• STEPHEN FRAIL
His prospects have been all but wrecked by the past two matches under his caretakership , which have seen Hearts pick up just one point out of six while watching four players being dismissed. However, Frail will stand a chance as long as there is doubt over finding a manager who will accept the working conditions under Romanov.
• GRAEME SOUNESS
He's out of work. And he's from Edinburgh. Ergo, he could manage Hearts. Clash of personalities between Souness and Romanov would be explosive enough in itself to bring down the old main stand at Tynecastle.
• TERRY BUTCHER
Parted company with Brentford at the end of last year, and is looking for a new post. A return to Scottish football would suit him.
• JOHN COLLINS
Well, if Hearts are serious about addressing Michael Stewart's disciplinary problem.....
Taken from the Scotsman
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