JUST where does Vladimir Romanov go from here? How will he react to Hearts players’ grievances over missing wage payments, as it becomes ever clearer that the squad are more disaffected with his reign at the club?
The majority shareholder has endured a similar episode before, when the Riccarton Three of Steven Pressley, Paul Hartley and Craig Gordon hijacked a press conference to reveal discontent within the dressing-room because of Romanov’s meddling. Their comments weren’t exactly well-received.
This time those prepared to protest against the Russian businessman are far greater in number. Despite yesterday’s postponement of an official complaint to the Scottish Premier League via PFA Scotland, there is still scope for the players to explore official channels and, if necessary, FIFA.
Hearts staff are confident wages, which were due on October 16, will be paid imminently. Wheels, however, have already been set in motion to drastically reduce operating costs, with both youth and senior players being offered to other clubs to generate funds. Yet the transfer window does not open for another two months.
So how will Romanov receive all of this over in Kaunas? He is refusing to comment, other than the odd rant on his club’s website. Those who have witnessed him managing a crisis know he will be furious but, at the same time, content that he is still in control of decision-making.
George Foulkes, the former Hearts chairman, told the Evening News that Romanov takes umbrage whenever people attempt to question his judgment. Watching his employees use factions of the Scottish football “Mafia”, as the owner refers to them, to force him to act will not go down well.
“I don’t think he’s going to be very enthusiastic or excited about it to say the least,” said Foulkes. “You remember how he dealt with perfectly reasonable comments from Steven Pressley, Craig Gordon and Paul Hartley. As I’ve experienced, he takes any questioning of his views very badly.
“That’s how I ended up leaving Hearts because I wouldn’t support him in trying to manufacture an excuse for getting rid of both George Burley and Phil Anderton. He was not best pleased and we parted company, not on the best of terms.
“He doesn’t bawl and shout. He knows he’s got the upper hand. The Hearts board never meets and if it did it is made up of his son, his niece and one of his employees. Romanov has total control. Every decision has to be approved by him.
“Remember he was a Soviet submarine commander. They never had anyone question their decisions. He’s a Russian oligarch who’s made a lot of money, and no-one questions them either. Ten managers he’s gone through at Hearts for different reasons. One or two of them wanted to make their own decisions and he doesn’t like that.”
Foulkes offered his total support to the players after they considered a formal complaint to the SPL. “I think the players have a perfectly legitimate right to pursue this money,” he said. “I would never advise the players not to complain about this just because the owner may not like it.
“It’s happened again and again with the wages. Romanov leaves payment of things till the very last minute, and now it’s gone beyond that. He’s not the only one who does that, we’ve seen it at other football clubs and with other companies. But he seems to do it more frequently than most.”
For Romanov, a reputation built on serious investment at Hearts six years ago has fallen to alarming levels. The club’s majority shareholder is alienating himself from everyone in Scottish football and beyond, it seems. But why?
The root of the problem would seem to be control. Romanov likes making decisions and getting things his own way, as those who know him best can testify. Except this country operates with a democracy.
Foulkes believes the potential in Hearts as a club is enormous due to the influence they can call upon. His frustration lies with Romanov and his apparent insistence on going to war with all and sundry.
“He’s made his name in Lithuania, through Hearts strangely enough,” said Foulkes. “He is a genuine football enthusiast, although that latest statement he made a few days ago contained some really awful comments about Scottish football. There were some really scathing things in there, which is not the way to win friends and influence people.
“He’s put Hearts on a collision course with the SFA, the Scottish media, other clubs and with a lot of supporters. I think fans are divided because, like me, they recognise he’s kept Hearts at Tynecastle for the last six years and we’ve done reasonably well. We’re still arguably the third club in Scotland. People acknowledge that.
“But the pain we’ve gone through at the same time has been astonishing. I think we’ve probably got the most loyal and dedicated fans anywhere in Britain. I’ll be going through to Paisley tomorrow with some of my family and so will many others who put a lot of money into Romanov’s coffers each week.
“I think he has alienated himself. I don’t see many people warming to him. They shake his hand but that’s out of courtesy and basic manners. I don’t think he’s got many close friends over here. I think it’s probably the same within the media. Now he’s doing the same in the city.
“What he should be doing is going with the grain rather than against the grain. Hearts have a lot of influential supporters, people who are councillors, bankers, businessmen, all different walks of life. We probably have as wide a range of influential supporters as any club in Scotland.
“If he mobilised them and got them onside, we would be making lots of progress. But he seems to want to go it alone. This is partly because he wants to make all the decisions. He doesn’t know how to work collaboratively with other people.”