WITH Paulo Sergio’s long-term future still to be clarified, Hearts have a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings if needed, according to a Tynecastle cult hero. Pasquale Bruno believes Vladimir Romanov should not hesitate to promote Gary Locke to the manager’s chair if the Portuguese is deemed surplus to requirements this summer.
The contract penned by Sergio last August expires at the end of the season and Romanov, Hearts’ majority shareholder, is yet to indicate whether it will be extended. The Edinburgh club may eventually find themselves seeking the 11th manager of the Romanov era but Bruno feels they need not look far.
Locke, currently first-team coach in Sergio’s four-man management team, would be a prime candidate. A “promote-from-within” ethos will be applied to the playing squad this summer as Hearts reduce costs by releasing experienced high earners and replacing them with youth academy graduates. Adopting the same policy with their manager might normally be considered risky, but Bruno believes Locke would be an exception.
The Italian, now 49, spent two years at Tynecastle in the mid-1990s in a Hearts team captained by Locke, who was only in his early 20s at the time. Despite some initial language difficulties, which Bruno jokingly attributes to Locke’s Bonnyrigg accent, the pair got on famously.
Bruno arrived in Edinburgh with a UEFA Cup winner’s medal and two Coppa Italia winner’s medals in the back pocket of his Armani jeans. However, he maintains he learned much from Locke and admires the Scot’s leadership qualities and deep-rooted passion for Hearts to this day.
“My dream is one day to see Gary sit on the bench at Tynecastle as manager of Hearts,” he told the Evening News. “You need people who are born in the club so why not have Gary as manager one day? The manager at the moment is from Portugual so Gary can learn from him. I would like to see my old captain become the head coach of Hearts. He was the heart of the team when I was here. Nobody can interpret the soul of Hearts like him. He knows the club and the supporters.
“Gary was a good skipper. He was a very good defender and he was very young when Hearts made him captain. He came into the team with Paul Ritchie and Allan McManus and they started the season beside me in defence. I remember Gary because I didn’t know which language he spoke when I arrived. He is really Scottish, you know. I asked him if he was speaking English or something else. But he’s a great guy.”
Locke turns 37 in June and has been involved in front-line coaching for just two years. Bruno doesn’t feel that should prevent him being fast-tracked. “It’s not too early for Gary. When you have played at a high level, it’s never too early to become a manager,” he added.
“I would like to be a manager myself. Lots of clubs from Serie B have asked me to be their manager but I don’t like their plans for the future. They say to me, ‘but you have experience’. I have experience of 25 years playing with big clubs at the highest level. Nobody can teach me what I already know in football because it’s been my job for 25 years. Gary is the same. He knows what it means to play for the jersey.”
Bruno enjoyed an emotional return to Tynecastle during the recent Edinburgh derby win over Hibs. He was paraded alongside Paul Hartley, Mark de Vries and John Robertson on the pitch at half-time, evoking memories of his swashbuckling days in defence in one of the finest modern-day Hearts teams.
“When I’m back in Scotland it’s such a pleasure because I like the country so much. I am very thankful to Hearts for inviting me back to Tynecastle because it’s a great experience seeing the fans again and some of my old team-mates.
“I think Hearts have a chance for success this season and that makes me happy. In life you can always do better and you should never give up. For the history and for the town, I think Hearts has to be at least behind Celtic and Rangers in the league every season. To see them in the middle of the table is disappointing. Hearts are usually always near the top of the league.”
Back home in south-east Italy, Bruno occupies himself with youth academy coaching these days in addition to his analyst’s role with Sky Italia. He has never ventured into professional club management but still harbours a hankering to do so. His career included memorable spells with Juventus, with whom he won the UEFA Cup, Fiorentina and Torino before he joined Hearts in September 1995. He feels his experience could be beneficial.
“I am waiting for the right chance to be a manager,” he explained. “I have said no to a lot of teams in Serie B and Serie C. Maybe one day I will take the challenge. I would like to be a manager for the experience but only in the right position with the right club. I don’t want to make a blind decision and lose my face because I have a name. Maybe one day I could manage in Scotland.
“I have my own academy and I work for Sky television commentating on football because football is my life. The academy is near Lecce, near the beach where I live. We start to coach the kids very young and we teach them to be very focused. It is very hard to become a footballer these days so I put my experience to these kids and help them to grow up.”