PAULO SERGIO’S future as Hearts manager depends primarily on whether his plans for next season mirror those of Vladimir Romanov and the Tynecastle board.
Director Sergejus Fedotovas explained to the Evening News today that the club’s league placing and Scottish Cup fate will have little bearing on whether Sergio’s contract is extended beyond the summer.
Formal talks have yet to take place between Sergio and the Hearts hierarchy and Fedotovas stressed they are not a priority for now. The main focus is on seeing the team through to the end of the season, with league form dipping of late. That is tempered by progress to the Scottish Cup quarter-finals, where Hearts face St Mirren at home on Saturday week.
Setting aside on-field achievements between now and May, Sergio must demonstrate to Romanov and Fedotovas that he is in tune with their future vision for the club if he wishes to remain in place. Producing young players for the first team via the Riccarton youth academy is the board’s aim and they will look to the Portuguese coach to promote from within.
Fedotovas, Romanov’s right-hand man in Lithuania, said he is encouraged by the board’s existing relationship with Sergio. “So far it’s gone well. We had a very good relationship and we are in a good position to have a discussion with the manager closer to the end of the season,” he explained.
“I don’t think that his future depends on achieving a specific place. His plans and the club’s plans are something that we need realise at the end of the season. What are his ambitions? What are the club’s ambitions? Can these go together or are there any differences?
“We haven’t touched on the situation with him yet. We have our contract and an agreement in place. There will be a time when we need to have some sort of discussion about his plans and his vision. I believe it is not the right time to have any discussions at the moment. Our priority is the games.”
Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Dundee United, coupled with St Johnstone’s win over Dunfermline, saw Hearts slip out of the SPL’s European placings to sit sixth in the table. Fedotovas admitted the desire to achieve a berth in the Europa League qualifying rounds has not diminished in any way.
“We are not taking our European chances for granted,” he continued. “We have to concentrate on every single game now and I think every week the priority is the next game. Once the next game is done, we can assess results and then see what is next in order to do better. To speak now about the ultimate result, I think directors, players and supporters all wish for the club to achieve a European spot.”
Sergio is keen for Hearts to finish as strongly as possible. His contract, signed when he replaced Jim Jefferies as manager last August, expires at the end of the campaign and recent league results have been a source of disappointment with only one SPL goal scored in the last five outings. That downturn followed a prosperous period of five wins and a draw in all competitions during the Christmas period. With a decent chance of reaching the Scottish Cup semi-finals, there are reasons for optimism.
Fedotovas believes one event to excite supporters is the recent capture of striker Craig Beattie. The Scotland internationalist negotiated his release from Swansea City before the January transfer window closed and, after being pursued by Kilmarnock, St Johnstone and St Mirren, opted to join Hearts.
Beattie signed a short-term deal until the summer but Fedotovas would not be drawn on whether the agreement includes a clause giving Hearts first option to sign the 28-year-old for next season.
“The details of Beattie’s agreement are confidential,” Fedotovas said. “Obviously, we will have a lot of discussions regarding the squad and players at the end of the season. At the moment, our priority is that we have started discussions and we have initial thoughts about building the team for next season. But the biggest priority is that, every weekend now, we need to achieve a positive result.
“We have our vision for possible outcomes in the Premier League and in the Scottish Cup. We hope that signing Craig Beattie may help us to achieve a higher position in those competitions. That is predominantly our thinking.
“Obviously, he is a player who has a track record and we are looking for him to help us. I believe this will be a good signing for Hearts in terms of us achieving good results. Hopefully the fans will be supportive of that and, all together, we will make a push. I hope the fans will be excited by this signing. Fans expect that the team will be successful and we are making a move in order to improve our chances for success. It’s not Craig Beattie alone who will make Hearts successful. We have all the team together and I think we have a lot of good players there.
“We are now in the second part of the season and we have heard what the manager has said about tiredness because of games. In the end, all of the players are professional and they are used to playing. This is their job and they will do their job as much as is required. I believe they are motivated to possibly achieve better results. This should be something our supporters are looking forward to.”