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John Robertson <-auth Andrew Smith auth-> Douglas McDonald
[D Riordan 22]
11 of 025 Paul Hartley 55 L SPL A

Stressed Robertson shows the strain

Andrew Smith

MAYBE John Robertson received a garish jumper, a lurid tie or an outsized pair of slippers in his seasonal gifts. Whatever, the Hearts manager hardly seemed at peace with the world as he discussed today’s Edinburgh derby at the club Riccarton training complex.

Maybe, though, a passing, rather than gifting, of status that could be wrapped up in the outcome of his first inter-city contest is troubling him. Robertson, as Hearts’ record goalscorer, has done more than any single individual to ensure the Tynecastle club have remained the dominant football force in Scotland’s capital for the past two decades. Now, circumstances beyond his control could be about to place under serious threat a local pre-eminence that Hearts fans almost take for granted.

There were signs that the Gorgie club could be starting to fray round the edges in their latter days under Craig Levein. His successor, however, may be the man who feels the full effects of the protracted takeover negotiations. Hearts are in football’s equivalent of suspended animation until Vladimir Romanov becomes the largest single shareholder in buying out Chris Robinson’s stake in February. By which time a clutch of the club’s out-of-contract players could have agreed deals to leave.

Robertson will have no truck with the contention that his team must win at Easter Road this afternoon to prevent a Hibs side that has been revolutionised by Tony Mowbray from disappearing out a sight; nine points currently separate the two teams, Hearts having played a game fewer.

Indeed, in being tetchy, defensive and cussed, by turn, Robertson seemed in no mood to be anything other than an awkward customer on any subject he happened to be asked about. So often did "no", "not at all" and "you guys make up stories" feature in his responses he seemed barely able to disguise the contempt he held for his questioners.

He will object to the game being seen as the clash of cultures that it undoubtedly is: Hearts a side of force and Hibs one of flair; Robertson old boy, old school against newcomer and new man Mowbray, with the Tynecastle club appearing on the way down as the Leith team are on the up.

Robertson would appear to feel put upon because, within the club and outside it, the eight weeks he has been in charge since the departure of Levein for Leicester City have placed him under a more unforgiving scrutiny than he has known in a decade. Revered throughout his dotage, Robertson, who netted 27 times in derbies, rightly earned plaudits aplenty for his coaching work with Livingston and Inverness Caley Thistle. A proud man, by all accounts, he seems uncomfortable with having to prove himself all over again at a club at which he was no less than a phenomenon in maroon.

Expansive when it comes to praising Hibs for the passing football he has courageously stated will be the product of modifying Hearts’ back-to-front style, he can’t help but moan over his club having been "berated in some quarters for having a poor season".

"Hibs are playing some quality football, attacking and scoring a lot of goals, and it’s been a long time since they’ve been getting coverage like this," he says. "When you go on a run and play the way they’ve been playing you deserve it.

"But we are playing a decent brand now. We have been involved in the UEFA Cup, again. We are in the semi-final of the CIS Cup, so we are having a decent season. We have had patchy form all year, even from the start of the season in the domestic, so it’s time for us to concentrate on that. We have done what we had to do in the CIS Cup, got into the group stages in the UEFA Cup and done very well, so it’s not been too shoddy a season so far."

In claiming "me and the derby finished in 1998" Robertson is unwilling to ruminate on the encounter holding any special significance for him personally. "It is a big match in any context of the season, especially with it being a new year fixture," he concedes. "We are looking forward to it. We have a tough, tough job but we have big game players and this is a big, big game. We are quite confident we can go down there and get a victory."

Robertson does not deserve to be judged on events this afternoon, or until he has been able to bed-in this season.

"All I have said is that we’ll come in and add to what Craig Levein has already got here by passing the ball a bit more," he states. "You can’t pass the ball around the pitch for 90 minutes. There are times you have to go and battle, it is as simple and straightforward as that. When we have the chance to pass the ball, we’ll pass the ball. If the opposition force us to play it long, we’ll play it long. That is football. It is all about adjusting to situations and telling the truth and that is what we are doing."

Telling the truth extends to Robertson expressing his frustrations over Hearts’ ownership uncertainties that have dogged the club since his arrival in November. This, though, has not stopped him bidding for Stevie Crawford.

The Plymouth Argyle striker favours Hearts’ offer ahead of similar ones made by Dundee United and Dunfermline. But doing a deal could come down to whether Mark de Vries is willing to travel in the other direction, which seems unlikely. This would negate the need for the £100,000 fee that Bobby Williamson’s side are seeking.

More pressing for Robertson is the need for budgets to be ironed out in order that he can determine what inducements are available in contract discussions with Steven Pressley, Alan Maybury, Phil Stamp and Patrick Kisnorbo, who will be free agents in the summer.

"One or two players are wondering what is going on and that is natural," the Hearts manager says. "They have six months on their contracts and they don’t know if they are staying or going. Until someone tells me my budgets, I can’t give them answers. Craig had the same problems.

"The budget has been cut and cut and cut, from an untenable position, to be fair, and it is still the same. We are leaking money so there may be more cuts. You need a figure. Even if it is another million off the budget it’s fine, you can work with that. I built a squad at Caley Thistle for £400,000 so there are players out there."

Even with all the promotion and ground issues surrounding the Highland club, life was simpler for Robertson in Inverness. Never was he psychoanalysed there. This, however, proved the case following his excoriating of referee John Rowbotham and his kick at coach Csaba Laszlo. It led to the press questioning his temperament for such a high-profile post.

"What temperament problem?" he snaps. "You guys can write what you want. I think at times you have reported it rather badly, to be truthful. Well, some have and some haven’t. I am a passionate guy for my sport. In both incidents I’ve told exactly what’s happened and it has been reported in different ways. Only you guys can sort that out, not me."

There may be little Robertson can sort out until the one power shift he seeks becomes reality.

Taken from the Scotsman

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