FOR all the disappointment suffered in Hearts’ recent defeats by Ayr United and St Johnstone, the learning process continues at Riccarton – particularly for the club’s first-team coach, Gary Locke.
Like any lifelong Jambo, he hurts whenever results go against his team. But Locke’s coaching education won’t be interrupted by anything or anyone. At 36, he is studying his UEFA Pro-Licence with the aim of becoming a manager in his own right one day.
The qualification is essential for anyone wishing to manage in the top tier of a national football league and is also required to manage in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.
Locke, a willing graduate of the Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown coaching school, suggests Paulo Sergio is an ideal mentor to aid his education. The Portuguese’s methods have been enlightening since he pitched up in Edinburgh with his assistants, Sergio Cruz and Alberto Cabral. Training is distinctly different and the team’s playing style is being radically altered.
Having watched Jefferies and Brown closely, Locke feels learning from a European coach gives him a sizeable advantage in his bid for a Pro-Licence. He has merged into Sergio’s coaching staff seamlessly despite being appointed by Jefferies.
The criteria set out by UEFA demands that candidates visit a foreign club to analyse their methods as part of the Pro-Licence course. Locke explained to the Evening News how he’s doing that every day with Sergio in charge at Hearts.
“It’s difficult having been with Jim and Billy but the way I look at it is I’ve learned an unbelievable amount under both of them,” he said. “Working under Paulo is brilliant for myself because I’m seeing how a foreign coach works.
“Part of my UEFA Pro Licence is to go abroad and look at how clubs on the continent go about things. But the good thing for me is I’m finding all that out here every day. Under Paulo, things are totally different. The training is totally different and I’m picking up things every day. From a personal point of view it’s great.
“I’m nine months down the line with my Pro Licence now and I’m really enjoying that. I work with Jim Fleeting, Billy Stark and Donald Park at the SFA. But working with the coaching staff here has been different class.”
Indeed, it is nigh on impossible to hear anyone at Riccarton offering negative comments about Sergio or his associates. Cruz and Cabral remain very much background figures, working diligently each day on the training field without wishing for public exposure. Sergio is the face of Hearts in the media, although it is a role he performs somewhat reluctantly given his humble approach.
Hearts’ last two matches have brought a stutter after an encouraging start to Sergio’s tenure. Yet Locke stressed the players are wholly supportive of the manager’s intentions and of his determination to play a patient, passing style of football.
“The players have said they are really enjoying the training and they are enjoying the way Paulo, Sergio, Alberto and myself are wanting to do things. I think they are buying into everything we’re trying to do,” said Locke.
There are, of course, certain areas where Sergio, Cruz and Cabral sensibly defer to better judgment, which is where Locke comes in. Keeping him in place when Jefferies and Brown were sacked was one of Vladimir Romanov’s wiser moves. Clearly, the owner recognised the vital insight he could offer the new management team.
Prior to SPL games, the first-team coach provides an insight into the opposition – their strengths and weaknesses, possible formation, dangerous players, etc. Sergio and his assistants came to Scotland cold with no in-depth knowledge of the league or its teams. Locke’s role, therefore, has been vital over the last few weeks.
“Paulo has tapped into my knowledge of the Scottish game already,” he said. “Obviously, he has his own ideas as well. That’s the reason we are part of the backroom staff, we all work together. I try to help Paulo as much as I can and he is helping me too. They are all fantastic people to work with.”