Alex MacDONALD remembers Tynecastle frightening Bayern Munich half to death.
European heavyweights like Olaf Thon, Klaus Augenthaler and Johnny Ekstrom left the hallowed turf shaken, if not shaking, and Tottenham’s superstars could suffer a similar fate if the current Hearts players replicate the spirit shown by MacDonald’s Class of 1989.
On a damp night in February that year, Hearts achieved arguably their greatest ever European result when the illustrious Germans visited Edinburgh for a UEFA Cup quarter-final. Iain Ferguson’s raking drive from a free-kick screamed past goalkeeper Raimond Aumann on 55 minutes, and the hosts held out for a memorable 1-0 first-leg win.
Their former manager attributes the result to an unwavering will to win amongst his squad. Similar strong reserves will be essential on Thursday, when Tottenham’s band of multi-millionaires arrive for a Europa League play-off first leg tie in which they are overwhelming favourites.
MacDonald never allowed his squad to develop an inferiority complex. To him, they could tackle anyone without fear. He had a dressing-room full of Scots and harnessed the native competitive edge to his and Hearts’ advantage, as Augenthaler and others could testify.
Tottenham carry the same swagger as Bayern and will line up against Hearts with memories of victories over both Inter and AC Milan still fresh in their minds from last year.
Under the wily Harry Redknapp, their European pedigree is firmly established after it took Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid to eliminate them from last season’s Champions League at the quarter- final stage.
In a testimony to his humble Glaswegian roots, that cuts little ice with MacDonald. He knows from experience that a gallus attitude combined with shedloads of spirit and self belief can topple even the most experienced opponent.
“I played against Bayern Munich myself a few times when they had Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller and players like that. It wasn’t any different for me to normal league games,” said MacDonald.
“What we told the Hearts players going out that night was ‘don’t wake up tomorrow and find you’ve missed a good game’. Our players wanted that result. The crowd is a 12th man, there’s no question about that and the atmosphere inside the ground was brilliant that night. But it was all about the players that night, we had a great team spirit.
“Ferguson took his goal really well. We lost 2-0 over there in the second leg but we were really unlucky because John Colquhoun was through with a chance to score. Then Augenthaler scored a wonder goal, an absolute peach. He did the same at Ibrox the following year when Bayern played Rangers.
“Football is all about confidence and if you have confidence in your own ability you won’t have a problem. You get paid to play and you enjoy getting paid for it. At that time, that’s the way our players were. They were keen to come in and train and play. They earned their reward against Bayern Munich and they were delighted, they had that feeling of doing well. You can’t beat sending the fans away happy.
“Thursday night will be the same kind of atmosphere as we had against Bayern, I think. The Hearts fans will have a huge part to play but it’s not like they are needed to motivate the players against a team like Tottenham. In a game of this magnitude, they will be pumped up without question. That could be their biggest strength.”
MacDonald watched Hearts open their SPL campaign at Ibrox last month and was impressed by their performance in a 1-1 draw. Since then, manager Jim Jefferies has been replaced by Paulo Sergio, who has hitherto presided over two victories and one defeat.
His short tenure to date pales in comparison with MacDonald’s nine years in the Tynecastle manager’s chair. Continuity was a major theme of Wallace Mercer’s time as chairman and MacDonald thrived making his own decisions and building his own team over a sustained period of time.
He mostly opted to sign Scots because he believed their desire mirrored his own. Now, he argues that many overseas players have managed to successfully add the stereotypical Scottish grit to their game. “There weren’t many foreigners playing in Scotland back when I was managing. I can’t see Hearts’ spirit being all that different even with a few less Scots. It all depends how they handle the occasion. I’m sure the supporters will have them going.”
In order to cause a major upset and oust one of the outside bets for England’s Premier League title, MacDonald believes Hearts must achieve a result at Tynecastle this week. Travelling to White Hart Lane for the return match will see maroon backs against the wall, he fears. “I think the thing is Hearts have to score at home because it’s a different kettle of fish going down to England,” he explained.
“They need to do it at Tynecastle, do the bulk of the work here. Then you can hopefully hold out down there. If they can go to Ibrox and do that to get a 1-1 draw, I don’t see why they can’t do it down there. I watched Hearts at Ibrox and thought they did extremely well.
“I thought their big captain (Marius Zaliukas) was excellent. He never lost a ball in the air. Their right-back (Ryan McGowan) had plenty pace about him and he impressed me too. The whole team played well on the day and certainly deserved a draw.”
There was little argument 22 years ago that MacDonald’s Hearts side merited their result against Bayern. With the same tenacity, one of England’s big guns could be next to have their bones rattled in Edinburgh.