HEARTS director Sergejus Fedotovas today revealed the direction he and majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov intend to lead Hearts in the aftermath of their historic Scottish Cup win over Hibs.
The Lithuanian hierarchy has a specific vision for the club’s future both on and off the field.
Romanov and Fedotovas intend to streamline operations and run with 45 professional players between the first team and Under-20s next season. They also aim to help Hearts become self-sufficient and sever ties with Ukio Bankas Investment Group, which could happen as early as next season.
It was only a few years ago that Hearts’ payroll carried 35 senior players, excluding youths, but times have changed dramatically at Riccarton.
“We intend to keep a strong squad and will remain focused on achieving as successful a domestic season as possible with a mix of experienced players and some of the best young players in the country,” explained Fedotovas. “We certainly believe that Hearts will be a fresh and exciting team next year and we are already preparing for the new season.
“We know how we want the team to be. We want to maintain the strongest squad possible.
“We have started discussions with Paulo Sergio regarding next season. We will focus on quality not quantity. The introduction of the new Under-20 league should be very beneficial and we expect that this will greatly assist in preparing the young stars of the future. Forty-five (players) should be enough. The more home-grown the better, but we need to seed the quality in order to sustain growth and let young home-grown players learn from experience.”
Whilst players come and go, the business side of the club is also being attended to. Recent financial results showed a reduction in Hearts’ debt to a six-year low of £24 million. The ultimate aim is to stand alone without being propped up by parent company UBIG. That may happen sooner than anticipated, according to Fedotovas.
“This is one of the main strategic aims and with UBIG’s support we continue to make very good progress in reaching self-sustainability and we are satisfied we are on the right road.
“The recently released financial results and progress made this season gives us a lot of hope that this position is already achieved and we can maintain it. If we work hard enough, and with some luck, next season can be the first without outside funding.
“We are adopting a carefully managed approach to aligning costs to revenues. We have successfully reduced operating costs for each of the last three years and will continue to do so. We have also reduced employment costs over this period. However, the real downward pressure is on player salaries. The market has shifted significantly in the last couple of years in favour of clubs.
“There will be a surplus of players in future transfer markets and this will assist in keeping wage inflation low, or indeed in actually bringing salaries back to more realistic levels.
“In order to manage our finances we need to plan for players that we can sustain and who can give you the result you want in the league and cups.”
One gripe remains though: the SPL’s voting system which gives the Old Firm a veto. “At the moment there is little hope that reserved seats of the Old Firm can become available. Existing structure of the league and anti-democratic governance of the league are the reasons for that.
“It is generally wrong to focus on costs only. If the only available solution is to focus on costs, football’s situation will further deteriorate and Scotland can soon be at same level with Lithuania. Even in Lithuania, councils move to reinvest the tax funds collected from clubs back into clubs.
“We all know Spain, for example, has a more flexible approach to clubs’ tax debt. This happens because football is an important part of culture in the countries.”
It seems Hearts are finally getting their house in order. Plans to thrive amidst financial austerity depend on increasing revenue where possible and relying on a loyal fan base. “Hearts remain a strong, well supported club and we do believe that we are doing everything we can to ensure that the business remains in a position from which it can develop when the economic environment improves,” said Fedotovas.
“The off-field team at Hearts is working towards the same aim and we are fortunate to be supported by a fan base that remains loyal when they have, in the past, been encouraged to attack the club and its owner. Coping in tough times is a difficult task and we have faced a lot of criticism for some situations we have faced, but we did not run away and held firm to manage this to achieve what can be our best season both off and on the park in the recent years.”
One area where progress has been relatively slow is that of stadium development. Fedotovas explained that a new direction is being taken which may ultimately end in a move away from Tynecastle.
“This is progressing well and we have begun a new study which will set out in detail some of the key criteria for a new stadium development such as location, capacity, facilities, timings, financial modelling and so on.
“We expect to have further news to report later in the year. The project runs a feasibility study phase analysing various options of sites in Edinburgh for the ability to host the development and contribute to economic and cultural growth of the Capital. It will be made public as soon as it is completed by our advisors, KPMG. We are positive that in early autumn of 2012 we shall further develop consultation phases with the council and all interested stakeholders.”