London Hearts Supporters Club

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Jankauskas Edgaras [G Buezelin 78] ;[G O'Connor 80]
28 of 099 ----- L SPL A

'There's not one manager who can be given a free hand to do the Hearts job on his own'

Douglas Alexander
Combative Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov defends his actions and tells the Old Firm to concentrate on trying to beat his club
Tourists come to Edinburgh to immerse themselves in the city’s history, but they can be oblivious to the fact that its ongoing story is constantly progressing around them. In the lobby of the Radisson hotel on the Royal Mile last Thursday evening, a group of Americans chattered excitedly as they prepared to venture out. They hardly needed their new knitwear as the breeze that blew through the capital was more sirocco than mistral, allowing visitors and locals to sit outside bars as though it was midsummer rather than late autumn.

The wind of change was still blowing strong, however. In a room not far from the busy lobby, Vladimir Romanov, the Russian owner of Hearts, could be found sketching out a battle-plan on a piece of paper. His strokes were rudimentary but came rapidly and with great enthusiasm, as though he relished each one as a form of escape after a long day of intense meetings. Claudio Ranieri and Sir Bobby Robson, two of football’s distinguished gentlemen, had already been in this room, perhaps watching the 58-year-old laying out salaries and player budgets to tempt them to Tynecastle rather than the ships and islands that he is now producing as he attempts to bring a famous Russian naval battle to life. After our interview, Paul Hartley, one of Hearts’ key players, will arrive, seeking assurances about the club’s future and his own after wearing a t-shirt with a “for the gaffer” slogan scrawled upon it in support of the abruptly- departed George Burley during last Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Dunfermline.

Romanov served at the Kronstadt (Crown City) military base on the island of Kotlin near St Petersburg during the Cold War. Its strategic importance, the purpose of his sketching, was established in the 18th century when Peter the Great defeated the Swedish navy by digging a canal through the island one night and sailing his ships along it and between those of his enemies. The poor Swedes got as much of a surprise at dawn as the Hearts supporters did last Saturday morning when news broke that the manager who had taken them to the top of the table and threatened to break a 20-year Old Firm duopoly on the Premierleague title had left after a disagreement with the owner, whose praises they sing to the Donna E Mobile aria from Rigoletto.

Both parties now cite a confidentiality clause when asked why they parted company after less than four months together. Last Friday evening a quarrel conducted through a translator, because Romanov does not speak English and Burley certainly no Russian, ended with an agreement that they could no longer work together. Their ropey relationship, already strained by Romanov signing players such as Ibrahim Tall without Burley’s consent and demanding written explanations of why the manager preferred players such as Julien Brellier, snapped. “If there is no means of agreement between two parties then a parting of the ways is the best way forward,” is Romanov’s initial attempt at explanation. “I don’t think there is one manager or head coach out there who can be given a free hand to do the job on his own. That applies generally to people, the way forward is to work as a team.”

The question now is whether Robson, Ranieri or anybody else will be able to form a working relationship with Romanov. Will his reputation as serial sacker of coaches in Lithuania be confirmed in Scotland where already John Robertson and Burley have been dispensed with and he has been christened ‘Vlad the Impaler’. “Normally where there is fear, there is also respect,” he adds. “I also experience fear, but you always need to overcome your fears through contact and dialogue to forge successful relationships. Time will show whether we succeed in doing that but that’s what we strive to do. When I feel there is a good relationship in place and things are going well I take a very hands-off role. The problem is if there are mistakes it is important that they are acknowledged rather than hiding them. That’s when the problems start.”

Romanov mentions teamwork a lot but his critics would claim his considerable entourage is one of yes-men and relatives rather than strong personalities off which his own can spark, and that Hearts are being run in a similar autocratic style to the Soviet nuclear submarines their new owner once served upon. Was it significant that Burley’s departure came on the very day Romanov upped his personal stake in the club from 29.9% to 55.5% by acquiring the shareholdings of Scottish Media Group and Halifax Bank of Scotland plus nominal ones belonging to Lord George Foulkes, the chairman, and Stewart Fraser, the financial director? The Hearts board has Roman Romanov, his son, and Julija Groncaruk, his niece, plus two more Lithuanian aides on it and he wants to take his shareholding beyond 75% by buying the blocks belonging to Robert McGrail and Leslie Deans, which would allow him to de-list the club from the stock exchange and make its finances less accessible to external scrutiny.

WITH many sceptical of Romanov’s motives for investing some of his £260m fortune in Scottish football, Burley’s appointment and success gave him credibility which is now at risk. The serenading could soon turn to slagging if he cannot forge a strong relationship with the next manager. Yet popularity does not seem to be something that bothers him. “Politicians are the ones who like to worry all the time about public opinion and also deceive the public,” he replies. “That’s not the business I am in. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to say ‘no’.” Foulkes, a former Labour MP, might blanch a little at that response but has joined Romanov in repeatedly throwing down the gauntlet to the Old Firm with gusto.

As an example of this, the Lithuania-based banker dismisses Celtic’s attempts to flirt with the Premiership. “As far as I am concerned this is propaganda,” he says, “they (the Old Firm) are not going anywhere. At the moment, they just need to focus on beating us, then we’ll think about letting them go.” Instead, he would welcome a dialogue with Dermot Desmond, Celtic’s major shareholder, and Rangers owner David Murray on how Scottish football can be improved. “The ultimate goal for us is to succeed in Europe, irrespective of who is left in Scotland, but obviously in order to achieve success in Europe you are aided by having a strong league in Scotland and strong teams competing.

“In terms of achieving success, that’s an individual thing. Every club has to find its own path towards success but there are important issues we need to have a dialogue on, on which I would seek the opinions of others and would like my views to be heard. Issues, for example, such as refereeing standards, assisting the progress of the national team, youth development. What you can say is that we no longer live in a world where there are secrets in football, where there is a mystique about building a successful team. We have got a situation now where a small country like Latvia played in the last European championship, a country where there is no real fanbase for football. If Latvia are there and Scotland aren’t then there must be a reason. It suggests to me that there is something wrong with the organisation of the game (in Scotland). It didn’t matter when the game was driven by enthusiasm and there wasn’t a lot of money in it and you could get by without solid organisational structures, but when there is money on the scale that there is now and where there is a battle for that money, then you need the right organisational approach.

“Teams are playing to full houses and if they could develop a star player from just one of those young fans in their stadiums, then that’s the basis for a good national team and you have to wonder why that’s not happening. It’s a case of making sure you are using the opportunities to provide kids with the incentive. Maybe they will see the stadium and be infected by the atmosphere. Maybe they will walk past it and go to the cinema instead, but you ’ve got to do everything to sow the seeds of desire.”

His care for the general wellbeing of the Scottish game is perhaps evidence that he is not the asset-stripper that some fear. Romanov is an engaging character but with a proud edge to him that is sick of all the suspicious questions. Despite his long day of meetings, he looks younger than his 58 years. He pours some water but chides me for holding onto the glass as he does so. “Russian tradition says you shouldn’t hold a glass when water is being poured,” explains Dan, his excellent translator. “It is bad luck.”

Taken from

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