Paulo Sergio glances out across the Hampden pitch and feels the goosebumps rising.
The finest day of his managerial career took place here nearly four years ago, when he guided Hearts to a 5-1 Scottish Cup final romp against Hibs. He is back inside the national stadium for the first time since then, although amongst his most vivid memories are the days of partying in Edinburgh that week. The Portuguese coach had a house full of family and friends during the build-up to the 2012 Scottish Cup final. All of them arrived eager to see him lead Hearts to victory but their fraternising at times affected his focus. Trying to sleep, plan training sessions and a gameplan to outwit Hibs wasn’t easy when his nearest and dearest were up half the night in party mood.
Sergio nonetheless managed to pull off the biggest result in Hearts’ history and is back in Glasgow savouring the memories. He is sure of a rousing welcome at Tynecastle on Sunday when he attends this season’s Scottish Cup fifth-round tie between the Edinburgh rivals. Whatever the outcome of this match, the aftermath will certainly be different. This time, Sergio will be on a plane back to Lisbon by 5pm.
“I had 15-20 friends and family at the final in 2012, like my mother and my wife. They stayed for five days in my house in Edinburgh and they made a big mess and had a big party,” he smiled. “It was very hard for me to focus because I wanted to sleep and nobody was sleeping for five days. They made fantastic movies and took fantastic photos of the final. Sometimes they put them on the TV and the hairs stand up on my skin. Fantastic memories.
“At the final whistle, to be with my brother, my mother, my wife and my friends – people who know me very well from where I came from – these things touch me the most. I can also say the same when I hugged every player. You remember that season we had wages problems and had to sell important players during the season. It was very tough. You should remember Blackie was painting walls and everything.”
Ian Black’s decorating days are long gone but the financial troubles Hearts endured that year made the triumph over Hibs all the more striking.
“At the end of the season, beating Celtic at Hampden in the semi-final and then our big rivals was amazing,” continued Sergio. “We beat Celtic twice that season, we also drew one and lost one. Against Hibs, we beat them every time we played them. I think that’s unique in history. It was a great feeling.
“In Portugal, we don’t have supporters. We have managers in the stands. People spend their time saying: ‘Take this player off, put the other one on.’ Here, people sing and make a party. In the street, if somebody recognised me here they would wave and shout. In Lisbon, they whisper: ‘Paulo is over there.’ I like the way you deal with my profession here.
“I have met Hearts fans in Marbella, in the Algarve, and a couple in an airport in Cyprus. It’s fantastic to speak with them. More than winning a cup, the joy is feeling the happiness we created for all these people who love Heart of Midlothian. What happened on the Sunday after the cup final, we will remember for the rest of our days.”
The Paulo Sergio song – an adapted version of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Give It Up” – also lives on in the 47-year-old’s mind. And in cyberspace.
“Portuguese people find this on Youtube and they think it is amazing because they don’t do this in Portugal,” explained Sergio. When they started doing this at Tynecastle, I was focused on the game. I didn’t know they were singing for me. Gary Locke came off the bench to tell me to wave and say Hi. Sometimes I wasn’t comfortable because I was worried some people can be jealous about it. I don’t like being on the spot, I want my players to be on the spot.”
Players, coaches, backroom staff and everyone connected with Tynecastle were in the limelight over the weekend of May 12 and 13, 2012. The only downside was Sergio’s departure from Hearts three weeks later. Former owner Vladimir Romanov offered the Portuguese a salary of less than 50 per cent to sign a new contract, which was swiftly rejected.
“I was sure I would stay but after the cup final the people came to me with an offer less than half what I was earning. I couldn’t stay,” admitted Sergio. “I felt they were laughing in my face. We had lots of time to agree a new contract. They never told me the budget would be this or that. They came to me after the cup final and I wasn’t prepared for that. I stayed on in Edinburgh for one week after the cup final and then I packed my things.
“I didn’t look for any other job because in my head I was staying at Hearts. After a big joy, it was a huge disappointment. Me and my assistants went back to Lisbon and it was like: ‘What are we going to do now?’ I was so focused on my job at Hearts, if we could bring players in, what kids we would promote? I will always be grateful to those who gave me the chance to work at Hearts but at that time they weren’t serious with me.
“That season, we had got to December without wages. We had to sell players to have money to pay the others. I think we sold Marian Kello, Eggert Jonsson and Ryan Stevenson. We used to say: ‘We will get paid because we win the cup. If not, it will be very difficult.’ We used our skills and friendship to stay close and stay together. It made us stronger and made us believe in ourselves. We said we had to solve the problem and, hopefully, in the end, get the reward.”
Sergio is now eager to return to Britain and work again, hopefully with Locke by his side. I had an interview this season with a Championship team in England but they chose a British manager. I’m waiting for my chance to return to the UK. I love the atmosphere here and the way everyone works together.
“Lockie was very important for me as a coach at Hearts, he was a huge help. Last week, things didn’t go well for him at Kilmarnock but I texted him to say another door will open. Before Robbie Neilson, Gary did an important job for Hearts. They were deducted 15 points and they fought to the end with young people promoted to the first team. Maybe he wants to be a manager now but it would be a pleasure for me to have a good project in the UK and have Gary with me again.”
What pleases him most is the way the Hearts’ revival has exceeded all expectations. “After what I lived through here, I love Hearts and I support Hearts and I was worried when they were in trouble. I’m not jealous, I’m very happy for the great job they are doing with financial stability, good technical work, players playing good football and those fantastic supporters filling Tynecastle.”