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Jim Jefferies 2nd <-auth auth-> Euan Norris
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Tom English: 'Hearts fans have been too busy embracing the prodigal Jefferies'

Published Date: 31 January 2010
WHATEVER RANCOUR existed between Csaba Laszlo and Vladimir Romanov, there was a common decency that should have been observed when the latter decided on Friday to sack the former. The time-honoured way of things is that you acknowledge what the departing man has done for the club – in Laszlo's case, quite a lot last season. You then thank him and you wish him well in the future. It's simple and painless and respectful.
The club – or should we say, Romanov – ignored all of that and produced a missive that was crude and churlish. "Hearts today announced the departure of Csaba Laszlo from the club with immediate effect," it said. "The club has begun the search for his replacement and hopes to make the new appointment at the earliest opportunity."

That was it. No mention of how Laszlo brought a bit of stability after the revolving door era of Ivanauskas, Malofeev, Riabovas, Korobochka and Frail. No nod to the third-placed finish he achieved last season or the cup semi-final they'll be playing in this week. Nothing at all about the fact that, up until last Wednesday, when they got hammered by Aberdeen, the team had gone seven matches without defeat in the SPL, including a win over Celtic and an admirable draw at Ibrox.

In living memory it is hard to recall a manager being sacked and replaced and forgotten about all in the space of a few hours, as seems to have happened in this case. Laszlo took training and spoke to the media as recently as Friday, but it already feels as if his reign is weeks in the past. Hearts fans have been too busy embracing the prodigal, Jim Jefferies, to bother about the departed Laszlo.

That's understandable, of course. Jefferies is a terrific manager who has never made any secret of his love for Hearts despite being away from the place for nearly a decade. He's also used to working with a tight budget, pretty handy at making a little go a long way as he did at Kilmarnock. Until this season, that is.

But the acceptance of Jefferies as the Messiah of Tynecastle could be seen as being on the delusional side of optimistic. Hearts f.ans will be hoping that his performance will better that of John Hughes at Hibs, Peter Houston at Dundee United and Mark McGhee at Aberdeen, but the real measure of Jefferies' success will be how he measures up against Laszlo. And in that regard, he's up against a guy who set the bar pretty high, given all the restrictions placed upon him. The same kind of restrictions, incidentally, that Jefferies operated within at Kilmarnock, where the Rugby Park fans derided the sterility of his team's play.

Under Laszlo, results improved in recent times but only on the back of stout defence rather than anything that could even be loosely described as attractive football. Hearts have become dogged and well organised. Or to put it another way; deadly dull to watch. This was the source of some of the Hearts fans' ire. Their team had become unconscionably boring.

Laszlo never wasted an opportunity to whinge about his injury list and his lack of funds in the transfer market, as if he was the only manager who was wrestling in the straitjacket. He never seemed to grasp the reality that Hearts are a financial basket case and splurging on new players, however modest the money involved, was just not something they could contemplate all that often. Quite honestly, he became extremely tiresome on that front. There is an argument to be made that he deserved the bullet simply because he wouldn't tone down the bleating. Even after Hearts signed the excellent Darren Barr on a pre-contract last week Laszlo found cause to bellyache.

The conspiracy theorists might have it that this was part of a grand plan on Laszlo's part. If he complained loudly enough and often enough about his plight at Hearts then maybe some other club would hear him and make a move to sign him. Some supporters suspect that he's been angling for a way out from early in the season. True or not, it's an understandable interpretation of his behaviour.

Remembering the story of the boy who cried wolf, it was easy to dismiss Laszlo's whimpering. But the truth is that he had a point, some of the time at any rate. The team that finished third last season has been weakened dramatically by sales and injuries.

Bruno Aguiar, who scored seven league goals and who provided the main creative thrust of the side, was shipped out in the transfer market. His loss has been incalculable.

Andrew Driver, who was their second leading scorer in the SPL with five, has been injured for vast chunks of this season. Again, his absence has had severe consequences. Christophe Berra and Christos Karipidis have also been sold.

He's had his crosses to bear, Laszlo. In recent months, there's been a spate of strains and tears to so many limbs at Tynecastle that they've had to shunt some starry-eyed youngsters into the team. Everybody is doing that these days, but Hearts have had to do it more than the rest.

Last week at Ibrox, for instance, Ryan Wallace came off the bench and the lad looked so fresh-faced that if somebody told you he'd been yanked from a primary seven playground you might have believed it. He also looked like a handy player.

Hearts have done well to plough on. Before yesterday they were in fifth place. Not great, but hardly disastrous with so many games left to play. They were 11 points behind third-placed Hibs. It's a daunting, but not insurmountable deficit.

Laszlo didn't get much credit from the Hearts fans because the team were grinding out the results in a fairly gruesome manner. The manager would say he had no choice but to take that route, but what he says now is irrelevant in any case. He's gone and forgotten. And we are living in the new era of JJ.

Jefferies is nothing if not a pragmatist. He will accept that Romanov might interfere – although he's been doing less of that of late – and will find a way of dealing with it without resorting to Laszlo-like carping. But matching his predecessor's achievements is not going to be as easy as some might think. A third-place finish in the SPL, Europe, a cup semi-final to come, and a recent unbeaten run that suggested they had turned the corner this season while down to the bare bones of the squad. It's not half bad in his season and a half as manager.

Laszlo deserved better treatment than he got on Friday but what do you expect from Romanov? As good as JJ is, he's going to do well to match Laszlo's record if the purse strings at Tynecastle stay well and truly taut.

Taken from the Scotsman

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