KC and the Sunshine Band haven’t re-released their 1983 hit single Give It Up. It is merely Hearts supporters showing appreciation for their new Portuguese manager, Paulo Sergio.
Sunday’s Edinburgh derby was peppered with chants of “Paulo Sergio, Sergio, Paulo Sergio”, to the tune of the above melody, which initially built up momentum at White Hart Lane last Thursday.
Followers of the club are evidently quite taken with the new arrival. Dissenting voices immediately after the removal of his predecessor, Jim Jefferies, have gradually quietened as Sergio convinces the public of his management expertise.
Seven games, three victories, two draws and two defeats denotes a decent start to the 43-year-old’s Tynecastle tenure. Exclude the Europa League play-off mismatch with Tottenham Hotspur and his domestic record is impressive, with three wins, a draw and a defeat from five SPL fixtures.
Closer examination reveals only one league goal conceded by Hearts since Sergio’s arrival, which was scored by Motherwell’s Jamie Murphy at Fir Park earlier this month.
It is too early to judge the new man, of course, for he is merely four weeks into the job. But the initial signs are that Vladimir Romanov has at least appointed a coach who knows his business.
Sunday’s 2-0 triumph over Hibs brought Sergio instant hero status in his first Capital derby, as Hearts overwhelmed their city rivals and might have won by a more convincing margin. It also cranked the singing up a notch as three sides of Tynecastle bounced to the stadium’s newest anthem, albeit one adapted from a 28-year-old tune from the old vinyl record days.
That Sergio’s popularity is rising whilst Colin Calderwood’s falls further makes the former even more worthy from the Hearts fans’ perspective. The Hibs manager has endured a torrid start to the campaign with his team now rooted to the SPL basement, while Sunday’s success propelled Hearts to fourth on goal difference.
The control exercised by the hosts throughout much of the game pleased their manager, whose insatiable appetite for progress moved him to demand more in his post-match press conference. He believes in his players and they, in turn, are tuning into his philosophies.
There is an insistence on playing football from defence rather than launching long balls forward. Midfielders must be combative but creative and the manager is keen to add a touch of panache in that department before the transfer window closes tomorrow. Strikers must work hard to close opponents down, with movement being a key part of their game.
Sergio’s approach is simple but, so far, pretty effective.
His team selections betray his beliefs about how the game should be played. He favours two wingers, either in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation. Strikers are to use their pace and sharpness to link up with the wide players and feed on any opportunity created by them.
Sergio is clearly not enamoured by reputations, either. John Sutton scored 17 goals for Motherwell last season but failed to even make the matchday squad against Hibs. Ryan McGowan, after an exceptional display at right-back in the second leg with Tottenham, was similarly jettisoned from the Hearts team and watched the derby from Tynecastle’s media gantry.
The manager’s standards are high and are likely only to rise from here on as he shapes his squad.
From a media perspective, Sergio is personable and professional with a useful sense of humour. His comment about Romanov suggesting which team to play in the first leg against Tottenham illustrated his knowledge of previous goings-on at Riccarton. That he was able to joke about the subject proved he is human and not overly concerned by pressure from above.
The public attention on Sergio is increasing, although it is not entirely welcomed by the man himself. He is happy to be pleasing Hearts fans during the early stages of his stewardship but has admitted privately to being surprised at the level of media interest in the club.
“Why so much press? I am not a star. I am a humble guy,” he said. Except, in the eyes of Tynecastle regulars, he is very much the star attraction for now.
With fixtures against Inverness, St Mirren and St Johnstone lying in wait after the international break, Sergio’s stock could rise yet further before Celtic arrive in Gorgie on Sunday, October 2.
He says he doesn’t like seeing his face in newspapers and on television, which stems from his European background where only the superclubs, as they are called, receive excessive media exposure. In Scotland, though, there is no escaping the glare of the public. Particularly if you manage Hearts.
It is still early days for Sergio, who must be wary of the unpredictable Romanov and what fate may await him at any given moment. However, he has hitherto shown an aptitude for his new job and endeared himself to Hearts followers. Many of Romanov’s previous appointments failed to do likewise in a much longer period of time.
For that he deserves credit. Continue as he is going and he will have to accept that he is indeed a big star in Edinburgh. KC and the Sunshine Band might even consider launching that song all over again given its rediscovered popularity.