PAULO SERGIO is chalking off the dates on the calendar in his Riccarton office. Tomorrow brings an important SPL meeting with St Mirren and another day nearer the end of January, when the Hearts manager will finally be able to relax.
The current transfer window is uncomfortable for Sergio as he waits to learn just how many of his squad will be transferred to cut costs. St Mirren’s recent form of just one loss in six matches occupies his thoughts ahead of tomorrow’s assignment at Tynecastle, but continually prominent in his mind is the prospect of enforced departures from the dressing-room downstairs.
“I am like that, I am counting the days,” he said. “I see every single day in the newspapers clubs and managers signing players to make their teams stronger. We can’t do that in this moment.
“January is going to be a very hard month for me because one morning I could wake up and I am losing one or two or three players. Or, maybe, until the end of the month, I don’t lose anyone. It’s the kind of thing I can’t control, so I should not be worried about that. I am just worried about the things I can control, that I can work with.”
It is not exactly clear to what extent Hearts need to trim their wage bill.
“That is an issue the people from the board of the club should answer and not me, if they need [to sell] or not. What I believe is it is a rule in football and in life that everyone has their price,” said Sergio.
“If we have good propositions, I believe that Hearts directors and directors of other clubs are maybe going to make the deal. I know in this moment our players open their appetite from the other clubs. The information is in the newspapers every single day, so I believe lots of people are asking things about our players.”
Hearts have yet to receive any concrete offers. Realistically, most business will take place during the final week of the transfer window, although that would be the worst possible scenario for Sergio.
“Yes, that’s dangerous,” he said. “If you make a good deal, losing one or two players halfway through the month, then maybe you can replace them with a cheaper player. But if you are going to leave that until January 28 or 29, you can’t do anything. Of course, that worries me a lot.”
Tempering his anxiety is contentment at Hearts’ recent rejuvenation on the field. After a run of just one win in seven games to December 10, Sergio oversaw a quite exhilarating transformation over the Christmas period. Hearts are now one of the SPL’s in-form sides, with four victories and a draw from their last five matches, and hope to continue the upward trend against St Mirren.
The well-documented financial troubles have not distracted Sergio.
He said: “I believe you can’t change your attitude or message in one moment. You start building this from the first day through to the end. If the players believe your message, if you are honest with them, they feel that you are in their side and fighting together. When you have a specific message to pass to them, I think it’s easier.
“I don’t believe in leadership with two faces. That’s good for actors because actors change their face with the work they are doing. I’m not that kind of person. I work with my players the same way I work with my kids – with truth, honesty and values. I believe when we have a good relationship with honesty, it’s easy to be together and fight these hard moments, no matter what kind of problems we have.
“It’s very important to create a real group spirit to build something together. That’s what I believe. I didn’t come here to receive great critics. I prefer the positive things to go to my players because they deserve it. I’m just one of them. That’s the way I like to work and that’s the way I am in life.
“I’m not in life to do something bad for anyone. If I can help, it’s my pleasure. I’m a fighter. For me, it’s a pleasure to be with them and be in the club. Everybody now is living hard times but I’m not the kind of person to be crying all the time.”
He is more the type of person to be planning all the time. Today, he is attempting to orchestrate Saints’ downfall but must contend with a selection dilemma at left-back. With Danny Grainger injured and Ryan McGowan suspended, he faces a straight choice between Jamie Hamill and teenager Jordan Morton. He refuses to go into detail about other injuries.
“I don’t want to talk about that until Danny Lennon [the St Mirren manager] has some surprises,” he smiled. “I have a lot of respect for St Mirren. They play quality football and they have good players. Their manager just renewed his contract so there is consistency.
“We know we are going to have to work a lot to beat this team. We know them very well and we know they have talented players. I hope we can have a good match and win the three points.
“We have some injuries and McGowan is suspended. Since the beginning of the season, I spoke about the problem of only having one natural left-back. We solved the problem with McGowan but now he is out and we have to find another solution. We will maybe lose Mehdi Taouil too, so we are living with some problems but we have to fight and find the solutions.”
One solution he won’t consider for left-back is Jason Thomson, who is not considered part of the squad whilst he looks for another club. Ryan Stevenson is also out of bounds, with Sergio explaining his dismay at the midfielder’s continued exile.
“Last week, I said I don’t have any problem with Ryan and the team has no problem with Ryan. This week, I have to say I was disappointed after he communicated with me saying he wants to come back then changed his mind two days later. I’m not happy with that but I still like him a lot and I still say he is a good player.
“Of course, he can help Hearts to win games, but sometimes in our life we take decisions and we are responsible for those decisions. I think he knows that.”