THE argument is difficult to counter: A cup-winning manager jets off to his homeland for the summer not knowing if his club want him to continue in the job next season. He is entitled to expect better.
That is the scenario at Hearts, where Paulo Sergio won possibly the biggest match in club history at the weekend to bring the Scottish Cup back to Tynecastle, but still has no idea if he will be kept on. He returned to Portugal with his family bemused that majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov, who attended the 5-1 Hampden thrashing of Hibs, did not make time to discuss a contract extension.
Hearts director Sergejus Fedotovas stressed today that the club is in the “final phase” of discussions over a new deal for Sergio, having accelerated the process in the aftermath of the cup final. The manager left Edinburgh at the weekend nose the wise, though, and is now waiting by the phone.
He can do so knowing there is a mass of maroon legions championing his case. His rise to prominence in less than a year in Scotland is nothing short of remarkable, capped by that stunning demolition of Hibs to secure silverware in his first, and possibly only, season.
Calls for him to be given a new deal are multiplying quicker than the goals flew past Mark Brown on Saturday. Adding his voice is the former Hearts chairman George Foulkes, a man who knows Romanov’s way of doing business having been a reluctant cohort in previous managerial hirings and firings at Tynecastle.
Many supporters fretted when, just three games into the new season last August, Romanov dismissed Jim Jefferies. His replacement was a relative unknown from Portugal. The future, for some, looked bleak. Yet the 2011/12 campaign finished on a note higher than any other in Hearts’ history with a resounding defeat of their greatest rivals in the Scottish Cup final.
Much of that was down to Sergio, whose case for a new deal is now undeniable. At the very least, he deserves clarity on his future one way or the other. Being left in limbo like this is unfair.
“I’m hugely in favour of him getting the job. I think he’s been brilliant,” exclaimed Foulkes, who infamously fell out with Romanov and resigned as Hearts chairman in 2005. “I like his style of football even if it took a little while for it to get fully into operation. Once it did, it was tremendous to watch and ultimately very successful.
“Paulo is also a great guy. I went to the civic reception for Hearts on Sunday and I was speaking to some of the players. It’s clear they have a huge faith in Paulo and huge belief in him. They want him to stay.
“Romanov had to fly back to Moscow after the Cup final so he wasn’t at the civic reception and I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. Even these days, I can still manage a word with him. Sergejus was there but there’s only one man who makes the decisions and that’s Romanov. It is very difficult to understand his thinking. It’s unpredictable.
“The swell of support for Sergio among the fans will, I hope, have an affect on him. Our first European tie is August 23 and we’ve got the SPL to prepare for before that. The sooner we have a manager in place, the better.”
Hearts are keen to retain Sergio’s services but, just 12 days ago, Fedotovas pinpointed June as a more appropriate time to reach a final decision during an interview with the Evening News. That plan now appears to have been revised.
Foulkes’ fear is that Sergio could be lured elsewhere as a result of his success in Scotland if moves are not made quickly. “He’s clearly a successful manager. News of the cup win will be spreading all across Europe and, indeed, the rest of the world,” said the Baron of Cumnock. “If Sergio was to get an offer from another club, he would be daft to refuse it, however much he loves Hearts. He’s got to think of his family and his future. I think Hearts need to move quickly.
“I don’t think Paulo is flustered but he seems a bit emotional about it. He’s a bit disappointed that the success hadn’t been recognised with an indication that he would get a reasonably quick decision.”
If Hearts are indeed about to offer Sergio an extended stay in Edinburgh, the timing could not be better on the back of a historic Scottish Cup triumph. “It would be the ideal PR move,” continued Foulkes. “I hesitate to advise Vladimir on his PR, but he is reasonably popular now in spite of everything because he has kept the club going financially. We’ve been successful under his tenure, regardless of what people might think about what he says or how he says it.
“Actually, some of what he says is true and on the mark given what is happening in the west of Scotland. But he would really go up in the estimations of all Hearts supporters if he made a quick decision on the manager.
“It would make financial sense as well. Someone was asking me about the number of people who turned up for the parade and why we only get 15,000 at matches. I said now is the time to turn that support into season-ticket holders and start thinking about building a new main stand at Tynecastle.
“Apparently there were nearly 100,000 people on the streets of Edinburgh. Converting them into paying customers is made easier by keeping a successful manager.”
Romanov has reiterated his intention to sell Hearts as soon as possible, provided he can secure an acceptable offer for his majority shareholding. But Foulkes does not expect any deal to happen before a decision on the manager.
“I don’t think that, given the way things have gone over the last few months, that a quick decision on the sale of the club is likely. We’ve seen in the west of Scotland that there aren’t a lot of millionaires around daft enough to put money into a football club.
“Whatever is going to happen with new ownership at Tynecastle, it’s not going to be overnight. I think Romanov has to accept that he will make the decision on the manager, and everything else, for the forseeable future.”