VLADIMIR ROMANOV today acclaimed Hearts’ youngsters for their stirring performance against Liverpool and explained how such prosperity on the European stage has been years in the making at the club’s Riccarton youth academy.
The majority shareholder attended Anfield on Thursday evening as a predominantly home-grown Hearts squad matched one of the traditional giants of British football with a rousing display. A 1-1 scoreline on the night saw the Edinburgh club lose their Europa League play-off on a narrow 2-1 on aggregate, but Romanov was proud of the young players’ maturity.
Hearts’ 18-man matchday squad contained 12 graduates of the Riccarton academy, and Romanov stressed that the insistence on developing young players is now paying dividends on a grand stage. He also believes the decision to promote academy director John Murray to a director of football role is helping players make the transition from youth team to first team.
“The way the team is playing did not necessarily happen accidentally. There is a way to get to this level,” said Romanov in an exclusive Evening News interview. “It starts from the academy, through all the years when the kids are playing for your teams at very early ages. I value this system when the academy kids and academy manager can find a way to talk with the first-team manager. It shows the result of our hard work.
“I remember when Kaunas played against Liverpool (in 2005) and the Liverpool manager told me that he thought it would be difficult, but not that difficult. On Thursday night I think that feeling was even stronger.
“I’m a little bit disappointed because we had a chance to win. Liverpool did not have a weak team but they didn’t have all the players they want, so they didn’t fight in the games they played against us. We missed a chance, and we had a very big chance.”
Romanov is determined to protect football’s the long-term future by persisting with the policy of promoting young players. “I’m not in football as a professional, I just look at it as an industry,” he continued. “Football is a legacy for big countries, so you have to look after everything. Not just the sports side and the level of performance. You can’t give away this national heritage. You can’t give it to the SFA, UEFA and others.
“While they will not follow their bylaws, you can’t do a lot so you have to keep your goals and go for your goals, not other goals. They are not looking at football like a national heritage, they are looking at it only like a business. This is a sport and a culture, which is the main thing.”
Asked about the impressive start made by John McGlynn since he was appointed Hearts manager, Romanov said: “The manager works very well and you can see the result. But, in my life, I’m always looking for a better and better solution.”
The Russian businessman also hinted that he has a decision to make over whether to sell Hearts after opting to close the Edinburgh branch of his Lithuanian bank, Ukio Bankas. Romanov had previously stated a desire to offload his majority shareholding at Tynecastle but today he admitted he must now consider his next move carefully. Romanov said the decision to close may affect whether he sells Hearts.
“You know, I was waiting more than seven years to get a bank licence in the UK,” he explained. “Now I’m considering what to do in the future (with Hearts). I watched for seven years how the football mafia is working. In the banking system, I’m looking at how bank cartels are working. It’s a shame. Such a huge and nice country has such potential but it’s under huge influence in this system.”