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After nearly a decade, Jim Jefferies returns to spiritual home of Tynecastle with high hopes for Hearts
Published Date: 30 January 2010
"I came out of the meeting and people were stopping their cars, practically on their knees begging me to come back," he said. "There was always that feeling somewhere that I would be back, although I didn't know in what capacity."
Jefferies is Messiah-like in the minds of Hearts supporters. Always will be. His appointment less than three weeks after parting company with Kilmarnock is akin to a long lost son coming home.
It was also a clever piece of PR work on the club's part to announce his return just two hours after dismissing Csaba Laszlo. Last night, during the press conference to confirm Jefferies as Laszlo's replacement, fans gathered outside Tynecastle seeking a glimpse of their returning idol.
"Whit time's Jefferies gonnae be oot?" enquired one Jambo as the media began to disperse. It didn't really matter. They wouldn't be leaving until he showed face.
Winning the Scottish Cup in 1998 and ending a 36-year trophy famine in the process ensures Jefferies' name will forever be etched in the annals of Tynecastle. He established a reputation for no nonsense which remains with him to this day and which supporters particularly appreciate.
Some of the imposters who frequent the first-team dressing room at Riccarton can soon expect a sharp and painful size ten to be administered if they do not match the standards set by the new manager.
But Jefferies admits he has not been immune to the mellowing process many people experience in later years. He turns 60 at the end of this year and expects to have "only two or three years" left in football. He intends to spend them at Hearts, but acknowledges that forming a working relationship with majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov is critical.
"One thing you can't question is Mr Romanov came in at a time when this club was struggling financially," said Jefferies.
"Whenever I've spoken to him, he comes across as very passionate, somebody who wants to do well for this club. There are a lot of owners in the game now who are entitled to their opinion when they've put a lot of money in. At least I know what to expect.
"I think it was maybe difficult when he first came to Hearts because they do things differently in eastern Europe. You have to accept that and I'm prepared to accept that. It's a bigger culture shock than people sometimes appreciate. He's been here five years and people know him now, so there's less hassle.
"You know what their vision is and how they see Hearts working. You've either got to accept it and adhere to it or you don't take the job. He comes across to me as a man who will be very fair. He has the same vision I have, which is trying to make the team successful.
"The board have given me a rough idea of what they would like to see. Last time I was here the supporters liked seeing the Ritchies and Johnstons and Lockes and Naysmiths all coming through. Lately, they've been bringing a lot of young boys in and that's the way the club want to go. It's about bonding them with players I want to bring in, who can be valuable assets to the club. Then you build from there and progress.
"A big word that seems to be coming across to me is that they (the board] want this club to progress. That's why I'm here. I want to go forward, be successful and try to do so in an entertaining fashion."
Replicating the free-flowing attacking football of season 1997/98 would not be a bad way to set about business. "That's not going to be easy," continued Jefferies.
"Maybe the quality of player isn't there the same as it was in the past, but it's the same for all the clubs. If we can have an eye for a player, get him in and bond him with the younger players, then we should be able to make Hearts really good to watch.
"You'd have to be in my shoes, to be a player, a manager and a supporter to know what this feels like. Coming here this time has been an easier path than last time. But it worked out in the end and I had a successful period here before.
We reached three cup finals, eventually winning one, and we played in Europe three times. We built a really good side here and it was great times. Hopefully we can come in again and try to give the supporters something to shout about.
"We have an early chance to do that but I won't be taking all the credit if we manage to reach the Co-operative Cup final. I was in two Scottish Cup finals before I won one, and I've been in two League Cup finals so maybe it will be third time lucky in that tournament as well."
Indeed, 16 May 1998 could easily be renamed Jim Jefferies Day in Gorgie without too much persuasion. "I wish I had even a pound for every supporter who told me that was the greatest day of their life," he said. "I think it was more special for me than a lot of people. Probably for Gary Locke as well because he's a right Hearts man through and through, as I am. It was just an extra special day.
"However, that's gone now and Hearts have won the cup again since. It was probably sweeter when we beat Rangers in the final but the club managed to achieve it again and hopefully we can get a bit of silverware this time. Hopefully we can build this club up and go forward. I want to give the youngsters coming through their opportunity, and through time I want to play in the manner we did when I was here before."
Provided he can re-enact that level of prosperity, supporters can enjoy taking Jim Jefferies to their hearts all over again.
Taken from the Scotsman