VLADIMIR ROMANOV was today urged to prioritise the feelings of Hearts supporters by securing the club’s long-term future before selling his majority shareholding.
The Russian entrepreneur has instructed agents to find buyers for all three clubs controlled by his Ukio Bankas Investment Group – Hearts, FBK Kaunas of Lithuania and the Belarussian side Partizan Minsk.
However, concerns over Hearts’ financial stability intensified yesterday as senior players were again left without wages. The club’s debt hovers around the £36 million mark and only 33 players, most of them youths and reserves, were paid out of a staff of 60.
Steve Kilgour, secretary of the Federation of Hearts Supporters’ Clubs, is imploring Romanov to safeguard Hearts’ future rather than sell at the first opportunity.
“The plea I would put to him is: ‘Thanks very much for the ride, now please leave us in as healthy a state as you can’. Hearts fans have supported Romanov and stuck by him through all of this. Don’t turn on us now,” said Kilgour.
“If he wants rid of us, he has to be realistic in what he’s asking for the club. He’s probably going to have to write off another sizeable chunk of the debt, which he has already done on a couple of occasions.
“We can argue that he ran up a lot of that debt, but fans weren’t complaining when we were making the big signings. We chased the dream.
“Hopefully he sells it to good Hearts supporters with the club’s best interests at heart. I’ve met the man on a few occasions and I don’t believe for a minute that he would leave Hearts in a state. He maybe wants out but I don’t believe he would do the dirty on Hearts or the supporters.”
Kilgour added that Romanov can now dictate his own legacy to an extent with the Hearts public. “Depending on his get-out plan, and what state he leaves the club in, you could say he’s maybe been good for us,” he continued. “He’s raised the profile of Hearts immensely, whether it be for good or bad reasons. We’ve had a hell of a roller-coaster ride and we’ve seen some cracking players who wouldn’t have been at the club if it wasn’t for him. Guys like Takis Fyssas, for example.
“He’s been good in a business sense, bringing in £9m for Craig Gordon. Previous regimes would have sold him at the first offer of a couple of million. Romanov has done a lot of good for the club. He’s done some strange things and some bad things, but I think over the piece he’s done more good.
“Hopefully he can walk away with the thanks of Hearts supporters ringing in his ears.”
Speaking to a Russian news agency, Romanov stated: “I want to leave football. I have given the order to find buyers for all my clubs. I want to buy the theatre and sell some of my sports clubs. The idea to buy a theatre comes to my mind every time I am in the theatre.
“In football, Hearts is controlled by a media mob of [Rupert] Murdoch. I once fought with them but everyone said it was the mafia. Now they, with one voice, agree with me. Now I am instructed to seek a buyer for all of my football clubs. I want to completely get away from football. I am a poor man because I invested everything in sport.”
Hearts manager Paulo Sergio was banned from the touchline for five matches by the SFA yesterday after being sent to the stand against Kilmarnock last month.