UNPAID Hearts players must lodge an official complaint with the SPL by 5pm on Friday to force the governing body to investigate ongoing wage delays.
The matter will be top of the agenda at Monday’s SPL board meeting if documents are signed and submitted by members of the Hearts squad before the end of the week. Such action would also seriously strengthen the case of any player who intends taking his case to FIFA next month.
A split exists in the Riccarton dressing-room between those willing to take action – a number in double figures – and those reluctant to speak out for fear of retribution from Hearts’ majority shareholder, Vladimir Romanov. Legally, the SPL could not pursue money for anyone who does not sign an official protest.
Many Hearts players are keen to approach FIFA next month to cancel their contracts and leave as free agents under article 14, which relates to terminating a contract with just cause. But they would have to exhaust all avenues of complaint within Scottish football before FIFA could intervene, so petitioning the SPL through the proper channels is crucial.
Wages due back on November 16 have yet to be paid in full and December’s salaries are due on Friday. If they don’t arrive, a growing number within the squad are likely to sign a complaint and send it to Hampden Park, thus forcing the SPL to intervene and deal with the matter.
SPL chairman Ralph Topping will meet with chief executive Neil Doncaster and club representatives Eric Riley (Celtic), Stephen Thompson (Dundee United), Derek Weir (Motherwell) and Steven Brown (St Johnstone) on Monday. The SPL has the authority to retain sponsorship and TV revenue due to Hearts and distribute it to unpaid players but league officials claim they cannot help the Tynecastle squad without receiving a signed complaint in writing.
Hearts officials have told players of cashflow problems between the club and its parent company, Ukio Bankas Investment Group, and asked for their patience. An increasing number are angry and frustrated as they struggle to meet direct debit agreements with banks and pay other expenses.
They could be entitled to terminate their contracts and walk free as early as January 14 under FIFA’s statutes. However, first they must complain to the SPL to prove they have taken collective action rather than done nothing while their employer failed to pay them.
The crisis is not only affecting results but causing players to question their futures. Eggert Jonsson’s agent, Magnus Magnusson, has confirmed his client has already called a halt to talks over a contract extension with Hearts. The Icelandic star’s current agreement is due to expire in June and he is reluctant to sign a new one due to the club’s financial predicament.
Magnusson said: “We were hopeful things would be solved by now. Obviously it would make no sense for Eggert to sign a new contract as things stand so there’s no reason to discuss anything with them.
“We expected Hearts to offer us a contract but things at that time weren’t as bad as they are now. We’ve had no dialogue with them regarding the matter, because, once again, it wouldn’t make sense. We’re monitoring the situation and sometimes things can change quickly in football. He’s a regular national team player and there are clubs in England and Europe watching.”