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John Robertson <-auth Andrew Smith auth-> Iain Brines
10 of 019 ----- L SPL H

Robertson unlikely to go gracefully

Andrew Smith

THE nothing John Robertson has been on a hiding to since becoming Hearts manager last November would now appear to leave him with zero prospects of remaining in the post beyond the end of this campaign. Yet there is nothing surprising in that for Robertson. When handed the role, while not being - then - owner-in-waiting Vladimir Romanov’s choice, he knew that his number could well be up come the following close season.

Robertson’s plight, indeed, might engender greater sympathy but for two factors. He seems about to fall victim to one of football’s accepted practices and will probably do so in as graceless a fashion as he has conducted himself often during his tenure as Tynecastle manager.

Merely on the basis of results and performances that Robertson has extracted from a transitional Hearts side - amidst withering uncertainty - he deserves, not his jotters, but a job-decently-done pat on the back. The Tynecastle side are in reasonable shape. This, despite Robertson’s predecessor, Craig Levein, enticing key figures Alan Maybury, Mark De Vries and Patrick Kisnorbo to Leicester City with him and so hastening the break-up of a squad already showing signs of fracturing before Levein headed south.

The recent 2-0 success at Celtic Park - a feat Levein never pulled off - and last November’s outstanding 2-1 UEFA Cup win at Basel demonstrated the potential of a more attack-minded Hearts that Robertson has been determined to mould. It is exceedingly harsh if he is deemed to have failed because this season the Edinburgh club will miss out on third place, and the UEFA Cup place this rewards, for the first time in three years. This was always going to be an outside bet while their first-team required to be extensively reshaped.

But Robertson was acutely aware of the potential briefness of his time stewarding Hearts the moment his paymasters inserted a clause in his contract stating that he could be released after the end of his first season following a "review". A post-term assessment that, revealingly, newly appointed chief executive Phil Anderton has recently made reference to.

Even allowing for the dubious employment terms he was offered, there was no way that Hearts playing icon Robertson could turn down a return to his old club. More significantly, however, to avoid a public relations disaster as he was seeking to gain control of the club, there was no way Romanov could reject the candidature of the 40-year-old whose only senior management post was Inverness Caledonian Thistle; a figure foisted on him as the perfect fit to succeed Levein by those then running daily affairs at Tynecastle.

The flirtation with the vastly experienced Anatoly Byshovets early on illustrated Romanov’s preferred path. The Russian coach appeared earmarked for some sort of general manager/director of football/head coach position, only to disappear from the scene when Robertson, understandably, demanded final say in all footballing matters.

But though he could win this battle, like countless managers who have not excited those responsible for bells and whistle buy-outs at their football clubs, Robertson was astute enough to know he might be a faller in the Lithuanian businessmen’s war to create a Hearts capable of challenging for the title.

Unfair though this may be, Robertson has exhibited potential character flaws as Hearts manager that do prompt questions about his long-term suitability for the position. Perhaps, to give him the benefit of the doubt, his frustration at knowing he has been living on borrowed time has informed the narky, desperately sour manner in which he has conducted himself, not least when facing west of Scotland print journalists.

The following, is an exchange from one of his recent press conferences:

Reporter: Can we go through the injuries, John?

John Robertson: No.

Reporter: Kevin McKenna?

JR: Out.

Reporter: With?

JR: Out.

Reporter: Can you not say?

JR: Well, he’s injured.

Reporter: But what is his injury?

JR: He’s injured, he’s out. Why do you need to know every injury? With the greatest respect, you don’t need them. They’re injured, they’re out.

Treating journalists like something you’ve walked on does not preclude you from being a successful manager. But the petulance that sees Robertson be awkward for awkward’s sake has been evidenced in his handling of contentious refereeing decisions and is rumoured to infect his dealings with players.

At Inverness, Robertson was largely free of living with unreasonable expectations and under an unforgiving glare. He faces these two aspects daily at Hearts, however, and his handling of them has generally not been consistent with what would be expected from a genuine top-flight manager in pressurised situations.

His door-closing on unwanted or shortly-departing players that could have been usefully enlisted in certain emergencies has encouraged the belief that he can sometimes prove too petty to be pragmatic. Which is certain not to have escaped the notice of Mr Romanov.

Taken from the Scotsman

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