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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
John Robertson <-auth Mike Aitken auth-> Douglas McDonald
[D Riordan 22]
8 of 025 Paul Hartley 55 L SPL A

Robertson issues quit warning


JOHN Robertson will manage Hearts his way. As a player, Robertson mastered the art of finishing - he scored a record 310 goals for the club in 719 appearances - because he was unflinchingly single-minded in front of goal. Now he’s returned to Tynecastle as the club’s head coach, Robertson will be similarly resolute. "You can’t be a puppet," he insists. "I’ve never been that and never will be one."

As he prepared to lead Hearts to Easter Road for the most eagerly awaited New Year derby against Hibs in years, Robertson was as bright and thoughtful in conversation as ever, developing the shrewd argument that both Edinburgh clubs will thrive during the coming year if only they can add the strength of their opponents to existing qualities. Hearts, he believes, need to inject some of the creativity which has blossomed under Tony Mowbray’s regime at Easter Road while Hibs would also benefit from more of the physical presence which makes the Tynecastle side such a thrawn outfit.

It was once this journalist’s brief to ghost-write Robertson’s column for The Scotsman. Knowing how challenging it can be to persuade athletes to think like sportswriters, John was the exception who proved the rule, a knowledgeable and humorous contributor eager to pass on what he wanted to say and only requiring assistance to cross the t’s and dot the i’s. If no one needed to tell John Robertson what to say in a column, it goes without saying no one will instruct Craig Levein’s successor on what tactics to use in a match or which players to select. The point is only worth making because among the myriad difficulties facing Robertson in 2005 is the imminent arrival of Anatoly Byshovets as the club’s director of football.

While Byshovets’ official role with Hearts appears to be that of a glorified scout, the former Dynamo Kiev player has already stepped on Robertson’s toes. Although he had no official role with the club at the time, Byshovets walked into Hearts’ dressing-room after the UEFA Cup victory in Basel and told the players that the celebratory music should be turned down.

Whatever else went on behind the scenes that night, Robertson is a strong enough character not to issue public threats. The coach believes both he and Byshovets can work together cordially for the good of Hearts. But there is a line which simply can’t be crossed. Robertson knows he must stand or fall on his own decisions.

"After what happened in Switzerland, there was a positive response to the things I had to say," he revealed. "At the end of the day if there was any conflict with anyone on team selection, players or tactics then we would just shake hands and walk away from it. You can’t be a puppet. I’ve never been that and never will be one. If I was told we had to play in a certain way or field a particular player by anyone outside of the coaching staff then I won’t stay here. I think I’ve proved at both Livingston and Inverness that we can be successful and that’s the way we want to play at Hearts."

The seeds of Robertson’s return to Tynecastle in 2004 were sown in his amicable departure from the club he’d served with such distinction as a player in 1998. Having collected his only winner’s medal as an unused substitute in the Scottish Cup final against Rangers, the King of Hearts knew it was time to move on.

"It was difficult, emotionally, to leave the club when I was still playing to a reasonable standard," he recalled. "But I had aspirations to be a manager - and the hope that some day I would come back to Hearts - so it was the right thing for me to go to Livingston as a player-coach. Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown [then the Hearts’ management team] knew that I was becoming frustrated and needed to play more often. It was a hard one for them to say ‘enough’s enough’ because of the number of goals I’d scored for the club. But they gave me good advice, as did Craig [Levein], who was already at Cowdenbeath. They said it would be wise to use the last couple of years of my career to get into coaching.

"I also believe you have to serve an apprenticeship. There are not many people in any industry who can go straight into a top job and succeed. I had great people around me at Livingston and it meant a lot to be shown respect by people of the calibre of Davie Hay and Jim Leishman. Whether it was on the technical side or the motivational aspect, I learned so much from both of them.

"In some respects, I had the best job in football at Livingston because there was no immediate pressure on my shoulders. When I went to Inverness, all that changed. The problem I had there was similar to the one at Hearts. You were taking over a side which was in good form and expectations were high. Caley were second in the league when I arrived and we won our first game to go top. At that point I thought - the only way we can go is down! Unfortunately, I was right and we finished fourth that season.

"The win over Celtic was a big plus and the following season, as will happen at Hearts, Donald [Park] and I began to put our own stamp on the side. We knew that the team could score goals but they conceded too many. So we improved the defensive aspect. And when we came into the SPL I tried to build a mentality similar to the one which Alex MacDonald fostered when he first came to manage Hearts. ‘Doddy’ thought it was important we didn’t lose games heavily. That helps to keep confidence high. Inverness suffered a number of 1-0 and 2-1 defeats but eventually those results changed into draws and from there into wins. Caley’s players now believe no one will turn them over. I think when they return to their own stadium, if they succeed in staying up, Inverness can go on to become a really strong force in Scottish football.

"At Hearts, all Donald and I can try to do is add to the product. We’re a very solid side which defends well. And what we’re trying to do is encourage the players to open up a bit more when we attack. If you look at what Tony Mowbray is saying, it’s the reverse. He’s got a lot of fantastic attacking talent but wants a couple of players to add solidity. Both Hearts and Hibs are striving to make subtle changes. If you want to be really topical this weekend, what you would love to manage is a team which attacks like Hibs and defends like Hearts. That kind of team would be virtually unstoppable.

"If you look at the two clubs in Edinburgh, they play different styles. Hibs are playing some terrific stuff and crowds at Easter Road are rising. Our form has been patchy but the gates are still decent and we’ve had the added bonus of big attendances for the UEFA Cup matches. Hearts have been inconsistent on the domestic front. But that was partly because of reaching the group stages in Europe. Don’t forget, we’re also still involved in the CIS Cup. So there’s a lot happening football-wise in this city."

Still uncertain about what to expect at Hearts in the immediate future - "Right now we’re just trying to establish if we’re working in pounds, euros or roubles," he laughs - Robertson dreams of moulding a team which can challenge the Old Firm for the championship. As a player he went close in 1986 and his ambition is to repeat the feat as a manager.

"When you have a bit of success, your best players are cherry picked," he warned. "Look at the Hearts team that won the cup - Neil McCann, Paul Ritchie, David Weir, Colin Cameron and so on were all snapped up. It’s a problem Hibs may also have to deal with shortly. The only way clubs like ourselves can compete with Rangers and Celtic for the title would be in a league of 16 clubs or more playing each other twice a season. When you play the Old Firm, with their financial clout, four times each season, that’s when it becomes very, very difficult. Mind you, that’s not to say it can’t be done..."

Taken from the Scotsman

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