HEARTS have resumed contract talks with Paulo Sergio and a decision on the Portuguese manager’s future is expected by the end of the week. For those seeking clarity on an issue central to their club’s future, a conclusion seems near.
Discussions on extending Sergio’s contract appear to have dragged on for months but finally both parties are entering the final straight.
The Evening News has learned that Hearts have first option to retain their manager for next season thanks to a clause in his existing deal. All they need do is invoke it.
Hearts officials contacted Sergio on Monday to continue talks over extending his stay in Edinburgh. Those discussions went well without any agreement being reached. The Tynecastle hierarchy informed the 44-year-old that they want him to continue in his role, along with assistants Sergio Cruz and Alberto Cabral.
Sergio, though, is seeking intimate details on the club’s plans for the next 12 months. He isn’t in a position to make demands but a projection for next year is important to him. He is aware Hearts wish to promote more Riccarton youth academy graduates to the senior squad and is willing to accommodate those plans. However, he is keen to know the financial paramaters within which he would be working.
He spoke to the Evening News from his home in Portugal, where he is enjoying a break following the historic 5-1 Scottish Cup final win over Hibs. He wants to build on that success next season but stressed that the decision is Hearts’ to make.
“For me, it’s very simple. I’m not going to make any special demands from Hearts,” said Sergio.
“They have an option in my contract. If they take the option, I stay with all my pleasure. I’m just waiting to hear what they can do.
“I’m not making any orders. I just need to know what team we can build and I’m waiting for them to take the option that is in my contract.
“I’m not asking for anything else. But we have to wait to see if anything is possible or not. It’s not in my hands. We started talking on Monday, they want me to stay and they want us to keep doing our work. But the thing is, I’m not clear at the moment. Let’s wait maybe a day or two and things will be clear. I think everybody needs things to be clear, especially the club.”
Sergio is concerned by the protracted nature of negotiations because they are affecting Hearts’ recruitment and pre-season plans. He wants to know how many, if any, new signings are possible. He would also like to draw up a summer schedule and arrange friendly matches to prepare the first-team squad for the new campaign. He can’t do any of the above until his future is clarified.
He isn’t flustered or panicked, merely motivated to find a solution. Whether he is to remain Hearts manager or not, the club requires pre-season plans put in place to avoid beginning season 2012/13 underprepared. The Scottish Premier League kicks off on Saturday, August 4, and Hearts’ European campaign begins with the first leg of the Europa League play-off on August 23.
It would be unprofessional and out of character for Sergio to look that far ahead and assume anything regarding his future. He doesn’t need to say what everyone already knows. He would dearly love to be in the Hearts dugout on the season’s opening day, accompanied by Cruz, Cabral and Gary Locke – the management team which guided the club to an emphatic win in the biggest match in their history just ten days ago.
The next move is down to the Hearts directors. There is certainly little appetite at Tynecastle for another managerial hunt this summer. “We started talking on Monday but, at the moment, there is nothing concrete to say,” continued Sergio. “You will know as soon as possible the outcome. As you know, in my opinion we are losing too much time. Everybody has pre-season and everything organised and we don’t. There is nothing I can do about that.
“There is a pre-season to organise and there is a team to build. As I said before, there is so much time being lost at this moment. I don’t have pre-season plans in mind because it’s premature to be talking about that. We have to wait and see.”
Supporters will be waiting with baited breath to see if Hearts and Sergio can reach an agreement. They have grown to adore the Portuguese in less than a year since he replaced Jim Jefferies. Beating Hibs to win the Scottish Cup merely increased his popularity.
Technically, invoking the option is strictly at the club’s discretion and there is little Sergio can do about it. But keeping a manager who is unhappy with your plans for the future is inadvisable, which is why both parties must operate in tandem.
“It’s not me who decides on the timing. We have started talking so we will see if there are some more developments,” said Sergio.
He remains in the dark for the moment but it seems light is beginning to appear at the end of the tunnel. The thing is, will it lead Sergio back to Edinburgh or off towards another chapter in his career?
Hearts, to their credit, are making moves to ensure it is the former.