SYMPATHY for the unpaid Hearts players has only increased in the seven weeks since their wages were first delayed on October 16. The squad finds itself in the eye of a vicious financial storm at Tynecastle which shows no sign of ending.
Some players are now plotting an exit strategy, a couple even have prospective new clubs waiting in the background.
David Southern, Hearts’ managing director, did his best under the circumstances by offering first-team members part of their wages from a pot of £30,000 released by parent company Ukio Bankas Investment Group late last week. A few, though, considered the £1000-a-man gesture an insult and spoke of refusing the money.
October’s wages were 19 days late in arriving but were eventually paid in full. Discounting the £1000 part-payments, November’s salaries have exceeded that delay as 21 days have lapsed since the due date of the 16th. Privately, players are now beginning to explore their options. PFA Scotland has been working behind the scenes with its members at Tynecastle to assess the choices available.
A few senior Hearts players are considering whether Article 14 of the FIFA statutes, which involves terminating a contract with just cause, could eventually be invoked. In this case, just cause would be that the contract isn’t being honoured by the club. FIFA applies a 90-day guideline to the rule, meaning that the governing body considers any player who has gone unpaid for 90 days or more is entitled to leave a club of their own accord.
This process was used by the former Hearts captain Michael Stewart earlier this year to facilitate his release from the Turkish club Gençlerbirligi after months without a salary. Hearts, of course, are a considerable way off the 90-day threshold, so that avenue remains closed for now.
Another, more realistic, possibility is lodging an official complaint with the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Premier League. Hearts players came tantalisingly close to submitting such a document to the SPL last month and were only persuaded against doing so by manager Paulo Sergio. The following day, their wages arrived.
A complaint would need to be put in writing and signed by the Hearts squad, or a portion of it. The paperwork is in place, however to date players have been reluctant to put their names to any documentation for fear of retribution from above. The Lithuanians in the Riccarton dressing-room regularly remind their colleagues of the capabilities of their paymaster, Vladimir Romanov, but senior players are frustrated at what they perceive as a lack of backbone from team-mates.
Bizarrely, a handful of first-team members have been offered improved contracts by Hearts whilst their current agreements go unpaid. Romanov is keen to safeguard the prospect of receiving transfer fees for those he considers prize assets.
Clubs in Scotland and England are monitoring the situation at Hearts with interest. A select few players have utilised agents to source them a ready-made destination once they are released from Tynecastle, be it in January or next summer. Others, like Kevin Kyle for example, are in the precarious position of being injured and needing medical rehabilitation.
Saviours are conspicuous by their absence for the unpaid squad members. Each way they turn, they find themselves in a cul-de-sac with no-one willing to help them out of it.
Tension at training is evident and squad morale is low. Results on the field are disappointing with only one win recorded in the last six matches. The SPL say they have the power only to investigate the wages issue at Hearts, but not to act. Since it is the clubs who effectively run the SPL, they appear to be suffering from being self-governing in this instance. The SFA does possess the ability to punish clubs for financial irregularities but, like their counterparts along the corridor at Hampden Park, are reluctant to get involved.
So long as the authorities hesitate, there is no deterrent for a club not paying players. UBIG directors are against constantly supplementing Hearts because the Edinburgh club remains by far the biggest drain on their resources. The constant outlay for no return is causing frustration at the group’s Kaunas headquarters, so it seems there will be little relief from the financial hardship before the January transfer window.
In the meantime, a small group of Hearts players have contemplated downing tools and refusing to train in protest. Others want to keep the faith and are showing commendable patience. No-one is ready to refuse to play but many are questioning why they should continue training at a club which isn’t paying them.
It will require a clearout and subsequent takeover to return Hearts to stability long-term. However, before then, there is the not-so-small matter of applying to renew the club’s licence in tandem with UEFA’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play regulations. This must be done by March 31 next year. Club licensing laws demand that a huge list of conditions are met in order for a licence to be granted for the next season. Without it, clubs cannot compete in European competition the following season.
The conditions include the following: Any monies due to other clubs must be paid in full up to December 31, including transfer fees; clubs must provide a detailed chart of their overall structure, share capital, assets and turnover, plus audited financial statements and audited supplementary information not included in financial statements; any interim financial statements including profits and losses should also be submitted, along with a list of employees to December 31 and their relative inland revenue documents; wages must also be in proportion related to turnover.
So, in effect, by the end of this month, Hearts’ finances must be in impeccable order or the club could incur UEFA’s wrath. The players can only sit back and wonder what the future holds for them individually.