Vladimir Romanov, Thierry Henry and the Lee Miller bargain - John Robertson's eventful time as Hearts boss

The Hearts legend has no regrets taking on the Hearts job
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When Craig Levein left Hearts to manage Leicester City at the end of October 2004, there was one clear favourite to take on the managerial role at Tynecastle Park.

John Robertson was doing a fantastic job at Inverness CT, guiding the Highlanders into the SPL – as it was at the time – as well as winning the Challenge Cup.

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On the appointment in November that year, Hearts legend Gary Mackay said: "John will be able to unite everybody to focus in taking the club forwards.”

John Robertson had a short but eventful time in charge of Hearts. Picture: SNSJohn Robertson had a short but eventful time in charge of Hearts. Picture: SNS
John Robertson had a short but eventful time in charge of Hearts. Picture: SNS

The prodigal son was returning to Tynecastle Park with a new era on the horizon, on and off the field.

Few could have predicted that when Robertson was announced, it was a partnership which would last a little over six months.

Yet, in those 187 days, the Gorgie legend packed in plenty.

He led the club to two domestic cup semi-finals, a famous European win in Basel at a time when British clubs struggled against the Swiss opposition and had an altercation with future Hearts boss Csaba Laszlo following a Uefa Cup tie at Murrayfield.

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And, of course, he got to experience Vladimir Romanov’s early months at Tynecastle.

Yet, there are no regrets.

“Hearts are a huge club, a huge part of my life,” he told The Longest Forty in an interview to raise funds for mental health charity Mikey’s Line. “I could have turned it down, stayed where I was and never had the opportunity again.

“The advice I got at the time was to take it and do the job. What I didn’t know was that the club were in days of going from Chris Robinson to Vladimir Romanov.

“I went and thought ‘here we go, let’s have a right go’. I’m not going to be scared of the Old Firm. We’re going to have a go at every game.”

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He added: “If I’m being honest, at the time it was probably too early for me to be the manager of such a big club. I probably didn’t have the experience which was required.

“I wanted to fight the world which I did on several occasions, notably with another Hearts manager Csaba Laszlo. I was too caught up in it. I wasn’t ready.”

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There were warning signs throughout his short tenure that his time as Hearts boss was going to be a brief one.

Robertson took a call warning him about the club agreeing a deal with a manager while he was still in the job. And he knew his time was up when he felt undermined when he sought to fine two of Lithuanian players for going on a night out but was told he couldn’t.

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“I got a phone call from a high figure in Scottish football who was at another club at the time asking what my exit strategy was,” he said.

“He said: ‘Hearts have already got a new manager for next season. They’ve already got him in place, he’s an English-based manager and I know he’s coming’.

“I was told later that Chris Robinson was asked to bring in a manager to see them to the end of the season and that the new owners were bringing in their own man.

“I didn’t fall out with Vladimir Romanov or Sergejus Fedotovas but I was disappointed, I felt I was let down a wee bit and should have got a bit longer.”

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While Robertson suffered no interference or fax machines when it came to picking the team he was frustrated when it came to getting a clear answer about budgets and signings for the following season.

It led to him asking if he could get Thierry Henry from Arsenal.

“The problem when Vladimir and Sergejus came in was trying to get a budget from them,” he said. “What’s the budget for next year? ‘There is no budget’..What do you mean there is no budget? ‘There is no budget. Who do you want?’

“It got so frustrating so I said to them jokingly I tell you what, there’s a centre-forward down in London, Thierry Henry, he’s not bad, can we get him? They went ‘don’t be silly’.”

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While the club missed out on Lee Miller at a “snip”, according to Robertson.

The striker was a hit signing on loan in January 2005. He hit up a fine partnership with Mark Burchill and netted 11 goals in 23 appearances.

Bristol City paid £250,000 for Miller but offered Hearts a deal whereby if he did well the Tynecastle side could sign him for £75,000.

“I went to Sergejus,” Robertson said. “Look we can get the boy Lee Miller. £75,000. We sign the contract now that if he does well and we want him we pay £75,000.

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“He said: ‘Vladimir says to leave until we see how he does.’

“But if he scores goals and does well he’ll cost more. Just sign it, it’s not costing us anything.

“Of course, Lee Miller did fantastic for us. Then they said go get him for the £75,000. I just laughed because I knew what the phone call was going to be. Spoke to Brian [Tinnion, Bristol City boss] and he said ‘thanks John, you done us the best favour ever. We’ve got two clubs in Scotland who have bid £400,000 for him’.”

John Robertson was speaking to Mark Benstead to raise money for Mikey’s Line. The charity provide emotional support to people struggling with mental health. You can donate here.