London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Page <-Team Sat 31 Jan 2009 Hamilton Academical 2 Hearts 0 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Csaba Laszlo <-auth Paul Forsyth auth-> Eddie Smith
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18 of 039 ----- L SPL A

Home is where the heart is

Paul Forsyth:
HAD IT been the work of anyone else, it would have been dismissed as all too obvious, a plan informed only by common sense. Set out by the manager of Hearts, a club not renowned for their lucidity of late, it comes as something of a revelation.
In the clearest sign yet that his employers are at last realising the error of their eccentric ways, Csaba Laszlo has unveiled a vision of the future that bears no resemblance to the recent past.

At least six Scottish, or British, players in every team, stability on and off the pitch, as well as prudence with the chequebook: nothing imaginative in that, you might say, but so far it has been beyond the club's majority shareholder, Vladimir Romanov, who has brought mainly turbulence, largesse and a scattergun approach to the international transfer market that has made Tynecastle look like a departure lounge at Schiphol Airport.

Laszlo, it seems, wants to end all that. In a radical departure from the club's principles under Romanov, the Hungarian hopes to change its philosophy beyond all recognition this summer. "Yes, definitely," he says. "In the past, there were too many times when it was up and down. Now, we try to have a plan, try to construct something positive here for young players. If I stay here, I plan with Mr Romanov to have a completely new strategy for the future. This is my wish. For this, I get my money. My job is not only to talk, give you stories and drink coffee, it is to go out and do training, and make a strategy for the board. When something has gone wrong in the past, you need to change. You need a clear direction for the future."

While Laszlo cannot oversee a transformation in the current transfer window, the expiry of 12 first-team contracts at the end of this season is his big chance. Then, there will be scope for his ideas, foremost of which is the introduction of more young Scots. "I have talked for a very long time about this to John Murray (Hearts' academy director], Anatoly Korobochka (director of football] and another person from the technical team. In my opinion, if you are in Scotland, about 60-70% of the players must be from Scotland or the UK, and the rest from different countries. The skeleton of the team must be Scottish or British."

While there would be room also for northern Europeans, whom he says have a similar mentality, as well as one or two others with more subtle qualities, the bedrock of his plans will be made up of native players. They will be cheap, no less likely to make a profit in the long run – as Christophe Berra's £2.5m transfer to Wolves confirms – and they will restore to the club something of its lost identity. The recent turnover of players, together with their range of cosmopolitan surnames, can hardly have made the club accessible to Edinburgh's school children, who are potential season-ticket holders of the future.

"I am a real European," says Laszlo. "I was born in Romania, and I moved around a lot, to Germany Africa, Scotland. I speak many languages, and have a lot of friends. But in my heart, I am Hungarian. In Scotland, you have this a little bit more. I don't see so many people from abroad. Edinburgh is a big centre, but if I moved somewhere else, maybe to the Highlands, I wouldn't see a lot of people from other countries. It's not like London, where every second guy is maybe from India or Africa. The identity is strong. I don't think we should do what Arsenal do, and have only players from other countries. It might be good for them, but in Scotland, you need to find the balance between history and reality. Here, the supporter likes to see somebody from the club's academy. He identifies with that. You can't just push that mentality away."

Ian Black is the first step of what Laszlo hopes will be many in that direction. The Inverness Caley Thistle midfielder, a former ballboy at Tynecastle, has signed a pre-contract agreement to join in the summer. While he may not be the most glamorous of acquisitions, he has proved himself in the SPL, and at 23, his value is likely to increase. The manager is also keen to bring Hearts' 18-year-old goalkeeper, Mark Ridgers, into the first-team fold, as well as 20-year-old David Templeton, a striker who has played for Scotland at youth level.

Measures such as these will also satisfy what Laszlo sees as his obligation to George Burley's Scotland squad. "If we can do this, I believe the national team will have more success. I ask a lot of the time, why does the national team not have success? Not today, not with Berti Vogts, not for... how long? I feel I must do something. If, like Arsenal, you bring only players from abroad, who plays in the national team? Nobody. A lot of people think only about dollars and euros. They forget to think about nationalism."

All of which is likely to have Romanov, an arch enemy of the SFA, spluttering into his Cepelinai. As Laszlo's exasperated predecessors will testify, Hearts' unpredictable owner is not easily persuaded, but the difference this time is that the manager to whom he has given more freedom than any other finds himself in a position of strength. His tenure now coincides with a global financial meltdown that might just persuade Romanov to see sense. Provided the economic downturn does not have apocalyptic consequences for Hearts, it could even prove to be a blessing in the long run.

Just as David Murray has had to familiarise himself with the concept of good husbandry, so might necessity be the mother of Romanov's invention. You can see him sitting on his swing in Kaunas, thinking, 'you know what, this Laszlo chap might be on to something'. Berra's departure does contradict the manager's masterplan. Instead, it underlines the potential, economically and otherwise, of homegrown talent. "I must convince the board about this strategy," he said before the transfer was confirmed. "And the most powerful way to do that is Berra. We also have David Templeton, Lee Wallace and Gary Glen. These are the best weapons I have."

Not that Scots are to be nurtured at the expense of all else. Laszlo, for instance, is raving about a 17-year-old midfielder he has signed from Portugal, "really a very gifted player". If the backbone of his side is to be properly complemented by men of a more skilful disposition, he says the club needs to improve its scouting system, at home and abroad. "It is easy to take Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Kaka. If you have the money, you can do this no problem. The big challenge is to get Kaka in the young years. There is no-one at this club with a machine that can print money. The strategy must be to get somebody cheap, sell them for a lot of money, and do it again and again. That way, you grow and grow."

Romanov is already reported to have slashed the budgets of his two other clubs, FBK Kaunas and MTZ Ripo. Hearts, too, have been cutting back their crippling wage bill, which used to be more than their turnover. Laszlo's ambition is to prove that, however alarming the club's financial predicament, it need not signal a decline in their fortunes.


Hearts had ten different nationalities in their starting XI at home to Hamilton earlier this season, but Csaba Laszlo now wants the side to be 60-70% Scottish


Janos Balogh – Hungary

Eggert Jonsson – Iceland

Marius Zaliukas – Lithuania

Christophe Berra – Scotland

Lee Wallace – Scotland

Bruno Aguiar – Portugal

Christos Karipidis – Greece

Ruben Palazuelos – Spain

Andrew Driver – England

David Obua – Uganda, right

Christian Nade – France

Taken from the Scotsman

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