Thursday, March 01, 2007

It's the Football Stupid!

When Graeme Souness was asked to revolutionise Scottish football he immediately scoured England for players that would form a talismanic spine for Rangers. Martin O’Neill did the same at Celtic. Jose Mourinho, with Cech, Terry and Lampard, has it at Chelsea.

Amid all the bluster about debt, media monkeys and Old Firm shenanigans of late it was this central question that most Hearts fans would have wanted an answer to at this week’s AGM.

Roman Romanov, in a performance that reportedly fluctuated between impressive, paranoid and sarcastic, didn’t adequately address how Hearts will replace the troika of Gordon (when he finally leaves), Pressley and Hartley that he and his father inherited at Tynecastle. Or how the gap left by the most impressive of their signings, Rudi Skacel, will be filled.

Football fans are not all that interested in business and media feuds. Only when the performances on the pitch falter do the fans look around for other problems at a club. And that, for all the diversionary tactics of the owner and his chairman-son, is what’s happening at Tynecastle.

Not since the departure of George Burley have Hearts looked like title contenders. This year the Champion’s League is disappearing over the horizon and the UEFA Cup is far from guaranteed.

And along with Burley, the highest rated coach that the Romanov’s have attracted, Skacel, Pressley and Hartley have all jumped ship. That is a major hole that journeymen, loan signings and youngsters have been unable to adequately fill.

With Roman Romanov confirming that any new coach will have, at most, a 60% say in team affairs it seems likely that any world class coach would have to be down on his luck to take charge of Hearts.

Picking a football team requires a great deal of pragmatism. It is pragmatism that has seen David Beckham returned to the Real Madrid team. It is pragmatism that will, in all likelihood, see Gary Neville marshalling the Manchester United defence at Anfield as we sit down to lunch on Saturday.

Contract disputes or the looming presence of Celtic and Rangers should not affect team selection. But Roman Romanov has promised that these considerations will be taken into account when the team is picked. That may well be asking too much of any big name coach.

There is more comfort for Hearts fans this week than there was last week. The stadium plans seem to be moving on apace and a new shirt sponsorship deal has the potential to expand the club’s commercial operations.

But Valdas Ivanauskas is in a vacuum of uncertainity and the playing squad doesn’t measure up to the team that achieved so much last season. The Romanovs seem happy to forget this as they continue their paranoid slanging matches. For the fans that is the only thing that really matters and it will take more than a new top and a massive stadium to truly persuade the doubters.

Roman Romoanov is wrong: the fans don't want to see him beaten up. All they really want from him is a team that can beat up the Old Firm week in, week out. If Vlad and son get in the way of the that they really will have a battle on their hands.