PAULO SERGIO left Hearts last night after rejecting a contract offer of less than half the salary he earned at Tynecastle last season. The Portuguese coach said he is exiting with a heavy heart but could not accept the proposal from the club’s board to remain as manager.
Hearts are determined to operate within a strict financial budget next year and offered Sergio a basic wage worth less than half the contract he signed upon replacing Jim Jefferies last August. The proposed new deal was incentivised with hefty bonus payments relating to team performance and achievement.
The Edinburgh club had an exclusive option to keep the 44-year-old but did not want to renew his contract on the terms previously agreed.
They are reducing operating costs in an attempt to live within their means and further lower their net debt, which currently stands at £24million. Sergio informed the Hearts hierarchy late yesterday afternoon that he would not be accepting their offer. He leaves the club just 19 days after guiding them to victory in arguably the biggest match in their history, the 5-1 Scottish Cup mauling of Hibs at Hampden Park. His assistant coaches Sergio Cruz and Alberto Cabral will also leave, but Gary Locke is to remain part of the coaching staff.
Sergio spoke exclusively to the Evening News to outline his disappointment at departing a club he said he had grown to love during nine months in Edinburgh. He stressed he bears no grudge towards the Hearts directors.
“I’m sad because I didn’t expect to finish like that,” he said. “I thought next year was going to be much easier for us. We adapted very well, we know the players and we know the league now. I believed we had everything to do even better next season after a hard season that we were living in the club. We achieved the Europa League and won the Scottish Cup, so I think it was a great season.
“My feelings at this moment are I’m not happy. But, to be honest, I have to understand. The board have to know where they want to make their cuts. I can assure you, I wasn’t one of the big earners, but that wasn’t an issue.
“Having players earning more money than me was no problem at all. But the cuts they proposed in my wage were huge. I can’t accept that after what I did, but I have to accept the board has to think about what they want to do in the future.
“There are no hard feelings; I’m just sad because I love that club. I love our supporters, I think they are amazing. My first emotion is sadness at leaving the project but life goes on.
“I’m going to keep Hearts deep in my heart for the rest of my life. I’m going to be a supporter and I wish them all the best.
“I hope they can have the success we had this season in the next season because I have a lot of friends there.
“I appreciate the opportunity to work in Scotland, to get to know a fantastic country with fantastic people. Now I’m going to start looking to my future because I was waiting.
“The club had the option in my contract so I couldn’t do anything. I had a few opportunities to be employed somewhere else, but I’m going to see what happens. There are other clubs and I am not a rich man, so I’m going to wait for my time.”
Sergio rejected suggestions he expected Hearts to increase their offer to compensate for the staggered pay-off payments he was receiving from former club Sporting Lisbon throughout last season.
“That’s not true. Sporting is Sporting and Hearts is Hearts,” he said. “I don’t make any confusion with that. I had a contract with Hearts and they didn’t take the option that was agreed in our contract. They wanted to offer me less than I was earning last season so I can’t accept that. It has nothing to do with Sporting.”
Commenting on Sergio’s departure, a Hearts spokesperson said: “Paulo Sergio declined the offer of a new contract. We wanted to keep Paulo Sergio at Hearts and made what we believed was our best offer in the circumstances. The same terms will be available to other candidates willing to lead Hearts to new victories.
“We would like to put on record our appreciation of all his efforts, and those of Alberto Cabral and Sergio Cruz, in bringing the Scottish Cup back to Tynecastle. The search is already underway to find a new manager.”
As revealed in yesterday’s Evening News, Jose Couceiro and Paul Hartley are both on Hearts’ list of candidates to replace Sergio. No talks have taken place with them as yet, however. Colin Cameron is another whose success with Cowdenbeath has attracted the attention of the Tynecastle board.