JOSE GONCALVES recalls the miserable ambience within the Riccarton dressing room as news filtered through that wages had not been paid. He endured that experience several times during four-and-a-half years with Hearts, which is why he would support any legal action by the Tynecastle players.
Some members of Paulo Sergio’s squad contacted the Scottish Professional Footballers’ Association and are pondering their next move after wages were not paid on time again last week. The situation is one which Goncalves is only too familiar with.
The 26-year-old became engulfed in plenty legal wrangling recently as one of six FC Sion players at the centre of an eligibility row which saw the Swiss club expelled by UEFA from this season’s Europa League. However, he believes playing for no wages is the most distressing situation in football.
“There are worse situations in life but it is one of the worst situations in football when you don’t get paid,” said the Portuguese defender. “Not only the players, but all the people who work at the club.
“We always tried to keep our spirits high at Hearts. Of course, it’s a very annoying situation but we were focused on our job and the games. We tried to do our best every weekend and that’s the most important thing.
“But, of course, behind that, you have this frustration when you are not paid. It’s very annoying for some players who have families and it’s a very bad situation. We know Mr Romanov sometimes says things will happen, and sometimes says things which you don’t know if they will happen or not.
“It’s difficult for the players. If they have to go to the players’ union, if that’s their only possibility, they have to do it. You must feel comfortable with your employer.”
Goncalves stopped short of contacting the SPFA during his time in Scotland, and monies were eventually deposited in his bank account on each occasion they were late. Hearts stressed on Friday that some senior players had not received their wages but that they would be paid “in the near future”. Goncalves explained how that situation can damage morale and spirit within the dressing room. “I did not go as far as the union because, in the end, the wages were paid. There were a lot of players in this position. The team spirit has always been good at Hearts and I think it is still good at the moment. I hope the players can wait a little longer. As long as the team spirit is there you can forget about the wages a little bit, but it’s not easy being in that position.”
Blame for the current scenario lies with majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov, pictured right, at least in the eyes of the players. Hearts’ performance against Rangers on Sunday was not that of a team riddled with despondency, but Goncalves believes Romanov will harbour suspicions over the reasons for the 2-0 defeat. “When you lose a game and Romanov has not paid the wages, then he thinks the players did not want to play because they didn’t get any money. Then the owner goes against the players. This is not the case with the players,” said the Portuguese.
“If you win, everything is nice. If you lose, the owner thinks you didn’t give 100 per cent because you didn’t get paid. But that’s not true. The players try to do the best for the team first, and then for the club.
“The players never blame the club because it’s not the club’s fault. It’s the owner and the people who pay the wages. I don’t understand this situation. I don’t think the financial crisis is so bad that you can’t pay the players on time. At Hearts, everything looks stable and is stable.
“On one side you think, ‘we trust Mr Romanov because he is the owner and he pays the wages’. But because you are the owner it doesn’t mean the players can’t say anything.
“If they need this money and they cannot wait any longer, the best thing to do is to go to the players’ union. There is not any better solution.”