PRESSURES on managers are nothing new, but at Hearts they are unique.
Vladimir Romanov, majority shareholder at Tynecastle, likes a conspiracy theory and often conjures his own impressions of how Scottish football’s “mafia” treat the club. Indications are Paulo Sergio is buying into the paranoia.
This is a huge week for Sergio less than three months into his Hearts tenure. Thursday sees him appear in front of the Scottish Football Association for criticising referee Iain Brines. Sanctions are also likely for his angry remonstrations with another referee, Alan Muir, after being ordered to the stand against Kilmarnock on Saturday.
Sergio already seems to be falling victim to a problem which has afflicted many a Hearts coach, particularly those from foreign countries. He is beginning to feel the world is against him, as did others before him like Valdas Ivanauskas, Eduard Malofeev and Angel Chervenkov.
That notion is imparted from above. It is nurtured further by things like record SFA fines for indiscipline and the recent media blackout which has seen Hearts adopt a vow of public silence, save for their own website.
The key to managing the club successfully is rising above it. Alex Smith, chairman of Scotland’s Managers and Coaches Association, is eager for Sergio to concentrate on football for his own sake and avoid courting enemies.
“He’s come in to a massive club and he needs to realise that first,” Smith told the Evening News. “When they come in, they all suffer from the fact there’s so much pressure on being at a club with high expectations and which has to stay up near the top of the league.
“It becomes a massive pressure for a new man coming from another culture. Csaba Laszlo was the same when he came in. He was so high and it was like he had been fed information about everybody being against Hearts. You know the cause of it, the bit about the Old Firm getting all the decisions and conspiracy theories all over the place.
“I remember speaking to Csaba when I was working as an SPL delegate. I advised him to drop all the conspiracy stuff, get everything off his shoulder about fines and everything being against Hearts.
“That kind of thing prevails within Tynecastle and it has to be shoved to the side. I told him to concentrate on his job as Hearts manager.
“There’s enough to do running the team and handling the owner’s way of running things. I’m not criticising the owner, he can do what he wants because he owns the bloomin’ place. But the manager has that to handle, over and above the coaching.
“We all get bad results against us. We all get bad deals. We all know that, in a big game at Parkhead or Ibrox, there are 50,000 or 60,000 people who will sway a referee in certain situations. We all know the same thing can happen at Tynecastle if you’re going there with, say, Dundee United. That’s natural. A big roar goes up and the referee reacts to the roar.”
Ian Black’s dismissal after only 16 minutes against Kilmarnock fuelled feelings of injustice doubtless lingering within Sergio for weeks. The furore over Brines’ performance in September’s League Cup tie at Ayr United has not diminished, although Muir’s inconsistency was an issue all by itself on Saturday.
In addition to frustrations at the coal face, Romanov’s stance on Scotland’s football hierarchy is a distraction the Portuguese can surely do without.
“He can’t help the situation because he doesn’t know how to. He just wants to have another go at the authorities,” added Smith of the Russian businessman.
“Stop fighting the authorities, stop fighting the establishment. The establishment put fixtures up and appoint referees and the referees control the games as best they can. There are certain games where they get influenced by situations, but we’ve all had to live with that.
“I would give some advice to Paulo Sergio. He looks like a nice guy but he needs to settle down and focus on the football side of it. Concentrate on what he’s good at, which is coaching footballers and moulding them into a winning team.
“Despite what people might think, when a manager goes into a new club most of us want them to be successful. It’s against our nature to wish otherwise. Most people want that manager to do well. There are a lot of good players at Tynecastle and Paulo Sergio must be a good coach. He hasn’t managed at the levels he’s reached without being talented.
“He needs to do what he thinks is right on the football side of it. He took the Hearts job, so he’s got to live with the other side. It’s hard enough to do the job without getting involved with what he sees as unjust refereeing decisions.
“Ian Black deserved to go off on Saturday, in my opinion. Other players in other games could have gone off too but got away with it. So sometimes things go for you, other times they are against it.”
Sergio’s initial media interviews portrayed him as a man of genuine humility and respect. He came from a prestigious coaching background in Portugal and previously managed Sporting Lisbon, one of the country’s biggest clubs.
Hearts supporters took to him immediately and chanted his name during his debut match against Paks SE at Tynecastle, which came just 72 hours after the dismissal of his popular predecessor, Jim Jefferies.
However, according to Smith, Sergio risks alienating himself if he cannot ignore these feelings of injustice. “People will start to think he can’t handle the pressures of the job, which I’m sure he can,” he continued.
“He can handle managing football players and getting results. But if you throw everything else into the pot – the ownership of the club, referees’ decisions, all this stuff about bias against Hearts and Scottish football being corrupt – it’s too much. It’s just too much pressure.
“The one thing Hearts have is a fantastic support. The manager needs to get that support behind him and behind the club.
“When he won those couple of games recently against Celtic and Dunfermline, the fans were delirious. The Hearts people are so fanatical. They will get behind him if he concentrates on them and his players.
“Take everything else out of the equation.”