The only managerial soap opera that was to have transpired in Edinburgh this summer was to have been at Easter Road involving the love triangle between Hibernian FC, Colin Calderwood, and Nottingham Forest. Then again, when “Mad Vlad” Romanov blows into town to see about things over at Tynecastle, general upheaval can never be too far out of the reckoning. And so it was, that after watching the Gorgie side fall 0-1 to Dundee United from his seat in the director’s box on the second matchday of the Scottish Premier League season, Romanov made the decision to remove Jim Jefferies from his role as manager and immediately sacked his assistant Billy Brown. An official announcement was delayed until the following day, as on offer to Jefferies was a position as director of football that he subsequently rejected.
Following the announcement that Jefferies had well and truly parted company with Hearts, former Sporting Lisbon manager Paulo Sergio Bento Brito was immediately presented as the next manager, overseeing training of his new Scottish squad that very day. This suggests that the dismissal of the 60 yr old Jefferies was more than simply a grossly emotional reaction by Romanov upon witnessing a home loss by Heart of Midlothian but instead a calculated move that had already been in the making. The loss to the Terrors provided Romanov’s action with a touch of immediate credibility once the immediate shock wore off as it allowed observers of the Tynecastle side to refer to the fact that Hearts had last recorded a league victory in mid-March, the only full points earned in a run of fourteen matches stretching back to the 2010/11 season. Mad Vlad even stressed this point with a trademark retort that has made his club’s official website statements required reading of late, declaring that “only fools and idiots would not raise questions…” along with letting the media know they apparently squeal like monkeys.
Subtlety must be something missing from the core curriculum at Lithuanian business schools.
Still, the sacking looked horribly timed, as that very week Hearts had a crucial Europa League home match against Hungarian club Paks to prepare for, and changing horses mid-stream prior to a winnable tie that would find the Jambos joining Celtic and Rangers as the three Scottish clubs remaining in Europe seemed rather foolhardy. In particular, the reason why Sergio had been made available was due to his Sporting squad having crashed out of this very same competition just the previous season against Rangers, so sending him into his first competitive match at the helm in a must-win Europa League match appeared rather ominous. Any residual fears were erased, though, after Hearts fans witnessed a rather impressive response to Sergio’s appointment with the squad smashing Paks out of Tynecsastle 4-1 and 5-2 on aggregate. This saw Heart of Midlothian drawn against Tottenham Hotspur in what sets up to be an intriguing third round tie. Then again, as the media have already been squealing in primal grunts over this being the “Battle of Britain,” it might quickly devolve into the most annoying tie this side of the Planet of the Apes.
Romanov got his win in Europe, but the club has seen its recent league form under Jefferies extended again under Sergio with a 0-1 loss to Motherwell at Fir Park on Sunday. Despite having the bulk of possession with an emphasis on keeping the ball on the ground, Sergio’s plans seem to have been undone when fiery midfielder Ian Black was shown a straight red card in the 50th minute for a bad challenge, allowing Well to use the man advantage for the decisive goal ten minutes later. While it is still far too early to suggest Paulo Sergio’s time at Tynecastle will be unsuccessful, the boos from those wearing maroon at Fir Park on the day might be expressions of what they think his prospects are going forward. Fans of the Jam Tarts have experienced much transition under the years of Romanov’s reign, so if Sergio is unable to reverse the club’s league fortunes in a swift manner, they will likely be less surprised to see the back of their new Portuguese manager than they were to see JJ sacked. Considering that Sergio is now the ninth new boss for the Gorgie side since Romanov concluded his takeover of the club, perhaps it might have been more remarkable that Jefferies was even allowed to manage Hearts to begin the campaign given his squad’s slide at the end of last season.
There has already been a great deal written about Romanov’s various qualities as an owner since his revolution in Edinburgh began in earnest. To bolster his reputation for having a rather dim view of the manager’s position, by seemingly hiring and firing on a whim, was the rumor a few years back of him choosing the starting XI and faxing in his selection for hapless manager Graham Rix to simply recite before kick off. A cursory glance at the heap of players arriving and departing Tynecastle annually has suggested to most pundits Romanov sees the transfer market as little more than a roulette wheel meant to be spun endlessly until the ball lands in the right spot. The thousands of pounds in penalties levied against the Hearts owner illustrates what Scottish football authorities think of his approach but also Romanov’s lack of respect for those individuals who govern the game.
One aspect that might not have been as readily discussed, however, is Romanov’s seeming lack of honesty. While the Lithuanian is at times too honest about his feelings on journalists, league officials, the state of the Scottish game, and the Old Firm, it can be said he often is not honest with himself. Simply put, were he more honest with himself, he would recognize he needs administrative assistance. While he may be well placed should one need advice on manufacturing or where to bank in Eastern Europe, Mad Vlad still does not yet know what it takes to cultivate a successful model of consistency for a winning football club. Yet perhaps, in offering JJ the position of Director of Football, was Romanov’s first attempt at true honesty over this flaw, and it seems a bit of a shame for the club’s sake that it was turned down. Jefferies is someone well-versed in the Scottish game, both as a player and manager, respected by others, and likely would not have been another of the “yes men” that Romanov currently has about him, including his son, the Hearts chairperson. It might have been a matter of pride or a desire to finally get away from the circus at Tynecastle and it is completely understandable that Jefferies turned down the opportunity to move into upper management and thus deeper within Romanov’s circle. But still, it might have been the only time Mad Vlad will have ever admitted he is indeed a bit mad and could use some help when it comes to the footballing side of things. That touch of honesty might never happen again.
Considering that it is a particular quality found in rare quantities in this business to begin with, it’s amazing it even occurred.