POSITIVE, impassioned, inspiring, even defiant at times. If Hearts players can perform like manager Paulo Sergio did at Riccarton yesterday during their remaining games this season, they will skate both the SPL and the Scottish Cup. They would take Europe by storm next year, too.
At his first press conference for ten weeks due to his club’s self-imposed media ban, Sergio delivered a rapturous display. He faced a backlog of questions on a range of controversial issues and answered every one with dignity and enthusiasm.
His passion for the cause shone clear as he declared his love for Hearts. He pledged to fight for the club and its supporters – rather than himself – through problems with wage delays, player exits, Vladimir Romanov’s plans for the club and Ryan Stevenson’s self-imposed exile.
Short of slapping his wrist on the table and slashing himself to reveal maroon blood, there was little more Sergio could have done to illustrate his commitment to Hearts. He even made time for the odd joke, delivered with his trademark dry sense of humour. Most importantly, he stressed there was no prospect of Hearts failing to survive these turbulent times. I believe Mr Romanov has the club to run and I believe he is going to do it,” said the Portuguese. “(Money) is a problem that our board has to solve. I am sure we are not going to let a club like this one die. I am going to do everything I can do so the future of the club is alive and having success. I hope everyone around me is going to do the same.
“We had a meeting three or four weeks ago and it is very clear for everyone in the club that we have to reduce costs. If we have some propositions maybe we have to sell players or put them on loan to make these kinds of savings. I don’t want to lose anyone but it’s not my decision.
“The main thing in this moment is not to go to third place or second place, but to put the club in a good position to survive and review all these next season.”
Sergio was asked if he would still have joined Hearts had he known what troubles lay ahead. His answer was emphatic. “Maybe if I knew in that moment what I know now, I would have had more desire to come because I love this club. In football everything can change in a moment but I can tell you we have a lot of problems, like everybody knows, but I am loving my job.” Sergio is confident players’ wages will arrive on time on January 16 to avoid any possible sanctions from the Scottish Premier League. “I don’t believe that is going to happen because I believe we are going to get paid. I was paid two days ago. First of all my players get their money and then I get mine.
“I don’t know if there is some problem with Mr Romanov. I believe that he still supports Hearts. I have to believe that, I am positive of that. I never have easy jobs. But it’s up to you. You can always make a choice – either you quit and go home or you fight and try to do things that you believe.
“If I was unhappy here, if I don’t feel the support of our fans and the people around me every single day, if I don’t feel well maybe I’m thinking to go home and look for another way in my life. But it’s not what happens. I can be happy here in Edinburgh: I love the city, I love the club.
“What I try to do is work with positive things. We have a delay in our wages, but I feel that people are fighting to put the wages in order. I don’t feel that our board went on holiday and don’t care about the problem. I feel they are trying to put the club in order. We have a challenge here and I want to win this challenge. I want to put this club in a good position and I am working on that.”
Sergio and Hearts remain unclear on Stevenson’s future after he withdrew his services before Christmas over wage delays. “In the last few days it seemed things would change,” explained the manager. “He texted me to say he wants to come back and he texted John Murray (director of football) too. But yesterday things changed again. We had a meeting and he said no, he didn’t want to return. So, I’m very confused at the moment about this problem.”
Asked if he would welcome the midfielder back, Sergio replied: “Personally, and with the team, I feel there’s never any problem. But I think he has to explain himself to the board, so I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Romanov’s plan to sell his majority shareholding in Hearts has yet to yield a buyer, but Sergio reiterated that the club’s long-term future is infinitely more important. “If Mr Romanov wants to sell and somebody wants to buy, the club goes on. The important thing here is not Paulo, Romanov or any player – the important thing is Hearts. I’m not fighting for me or any player, anybody else. When you ask me about a player who is unhappy because he doesn’t play, I don’t care about that. I’m here thinking about Hearts.”
He underlined that statement by explaining why he never took legal advice over wage delays. “I didn’t lose a minute or a second thinking about myself. First of all, because I’m positive in relation to all this. I believe that, in the end, we’re going to get paid – maybe sometimes with some delay but we will get paid every month.
“And the next seasons will be easier for everybody if you rebuild all the squad and put things in place with the money that Hearts have. They have more than enough to have a competitive squad without being in trouble like we are every single month now, because we’re spending more than we have. Hearts has more than 100 years of history and we want to have 1000 more. The most important thing is not a trophy, it’s having Hearts healthy.”