'Dudelange's team is valued at £3.54m. John Souttar is worth more than that.' Why Hearts should be competing in Europa League

Edinburgh club's restructure should be aimed at regular European football, according to Austin MacPhee

Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 6:05 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 10:41 am

Austin MacPhee believes Hearts can reach the Europa League group stages if they fulfil their potential as a club, citing tiny F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg as an example.

MacPhee is currently interim manager at Tynecastle Park and oversaw a vital 5-2 win over St Mirren on Saturday. That lifted Hearts from joint-bottom to ninth in the Premiership but MacPhee insisted they can achieve considerably more.

He feels strongly that the Edinburgh club should be competing in the Europa League because of their playing squad, finances and infrastructure.

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Tynecastle hosted Liverpool in the Europa League play-off in 2012
Tynecastle hosted Liverpool in the Europa League play-off in 2012

Dudelange, champions of Luxembourg, are enjoying their second successive campaign in the Europa League group phase. They were eliminated from the Champions League qualifiers by Valletta of Malta in July and parachuted into the Europa League qualifiers. They beat Macedonian side Shjendija, Nomme Kalju from Estonia plus Ararat-Armenia to reach the tournament’s groups again.

Despite their modest Stade Jos Nosbaum holding just 2,500 fans, Dudelange are in a section with Spanish side Sevilla, APOEL Nicosia of Cyrpus, plus the Azarbaijani champions Qarabag. They are thriving on the Continental exposure and MacPhee is adamant that such a feat is well within Hearts’ wherewithal.

“I was a technical observer for UEFA, which allows me lots of information about how football is modernising. I know the level of these clubs,” he said. “Dudelange have 2,500 seats and they are in the Europa League group stages. The total value of their team is £3.54m. John Souttar is worth more than that. So it’s achievable, it’s doable. How do Dudelange manage it? These are the questions we have to ask.

“I am also a FIFA mentor so I am exposed to different things about football modernising. I am interested in general sport and high-performance culture. I am communicating with [Hearts owner] Ann Budge all the time, primarily on what I’m doing with the first team and why. If she asks me questions about the wider infrastructure of the club, nothing I have said here would be a surprise to Ann.”

Budge is recruiting a sporting director and a new manager but has placed assistant coach MacPhee in temporary charge of the first team after sacking Craig Levein. MacPhee admitted improvement is needed. He has clear ideas on how the football department at Riccarton should be structured in order to facilitate regular European football.

“The academy is healthy at this club. The sporting director can move into the next level of modernisation – like collaboration with other clubs for relationships with loan players, selling good young players at a point, plus helping staff develop. I think the sporting director should lead on those things.

“He should also lead on the restructuring of recruitment and I think the recruitment should be measurable. For example, a player’s salary divided by his appearances for Hearts would be a sensible way to measure how beneficial he was for the club.

“Now, some players would fall off a cliff with that assessment - Malaury Martin, for example; David Vanecek, to a certain extent. If there are too many of these guys, the sporting director isn’t doing his job right. There must be accountability and the people taking the job must feel comfortable with that accountability.

“This is a brilliant club with a brilliant opportunity. This club is made for Wednesday or Thursday nights – place bouncing, fans travelling overseas, some big-name players out there once we pay the stand off, guys who can still do the business even from 2-0 down, coupled with the best young academy players. Plus we want strategic relationships with big clubs around the world who can maybe loan us a player that shouldn’t really play for Hearts at this point - the [Joel] Pereiras or the [Ryotaro] Meshinos.

“I think the balance can be struck. The worst thing in any organisation is: If there are improvements you can make which don’t cost money, it’s madness if you don’t make them. I think a lot of little things can be done better.”