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Heartless Romanov deserves all he gets

Simon Hattenstone
Wednesday November 2, 2005
The Guardian

There's something strange in the air. Today, I spotted newly budding roses in my neighbour's garden. A few days ago we were basking in the summer heat - in late October. Lovely it was, too, even if it does presage the end of the planet. As the great old song has it, Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think).

And so to George Burley, the former Hearts manager. It's bound to be a quiz question in years to come. Name the manager who never lost a league game, won eight out of 10, and was then given the boot. Oops. Sorry. Better rephrase that. Name the manager unbeaten in his 10-game reign who left his club by mutual consent after coming into conflict with his boss.

Oh, sod the mutual consent. I'm sure it wasn't Burley who insisted on the confidentiality agreement in his compensation deal. As so often with football, in the absence of proof all that's left is for us to surmise. And my surmise is that he was shown the door because he didn't kiss the moneyed bottom of Hearts' owner Vladimir Romanov.

A couple of weeks ago, Hearts was such a feelgood story. As you may remember, my good friend Dave the Glaswegian miserablist was unfeasibly chirpy about the club's success - despite being a Rangers fan. "It's a victory for the little man," he said of Romanov. "He's a wee Lithuanian Robin Hood redistributing wealth tae the poor, unlike that sleekit Russian numpty, Bramvich."

We couldn't quite work out why we hated Roman Abramovich but loved Romanov. After all, they were both former Soviet Union get-rich-quick merchants who had taken over British clubs and turned them into their playthings. And both were doing it to feed their ego while, hopefully, making themselves richer in the process.

It seemed to be a matter of scale and taste. Romanov wasn't simply buying up two dozen of the world's greatest players to transform his club. He couldn't afford to - he only had 200 million quid in his pocket, unlike Abramovich's multi-billions. Abramovich has been merciless in his pursuit of success - remember the way he fired Claudio Ranieri, who had guided Chelsea to second (their highest finish in decades) and the semi-final of the Champions League. He demanded instant payback. He wanted to be able to say Chelsea were the best, and he wanted to be able to say it now. (Unfortunately he did go out and buy the best, in Jose Mourinho.)

Boss Romanov seemed to represent the human face of tycoonism, like Dave Whelan at Wigan or Jack Walker at Blackburn. Walker bought big (Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton) but not unseemly big. His spending helped win Blackburn the Premiership, but he did not buy the Premiership. Blackburn was still a David and Goliath story.

Likewise, Boss Romanov. He paid a top-whack 300 grand for one player, brought in others on loan, invested in a proven but unflashy Scottish manager. He was doing things the proper way. Or so it seemed to me and the miserablist.

How naive we were. It might yet emerge that Burley is a mad axe murderer who simply had to go. But I doubt it. I think he was given the push because he didn't like being told what to do by an autocrat and told him so, and his unbeaten record didn't matter.

Now the chief executive Phil Anderton has been sacked in what looks like a good old Stalinist purge, and chairman George Foulkes has quit in protest to be replaced by Boss Romanov's son, Little Roman. Honest. Boss Romanov is thinking big - Bobby Robson among others has shown an interest. Boss Romanov wants a flash name (and a yes man?).

The players showed their dismay that Burley had "left by mutual consent" last week when they left the pitch with "For the Gaffer" daubed on their T-shirts. But some Hearts fans have less room for sentiment. One told Football Focus: "As long as we keep winning and are top of the league at end of season, we'll have forgotten about George Burley." The same day they lost 2-0 to Hibernian.

Well, Boss Romanov, I hope you get your Bobby Robson. And I hope he brings Lee Bowyer, Craig Bellamy and Keiron Dyer with him. And, however fickle this may make me, I hope he takes you straight down to Division One.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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