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Jim Jefferies 2nd <-auth None auth-> Iain Brines
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Break-up of 1998 Cup-winning team still my biggest regret, says Jim Jefferies

AS HE prepares to celebrate his 60th birthday on Monday, Jim Jefferies is rightly more proud of the things he has achieved in football than rueful about what might have been. There is his longevity, for one thing: the fact that he and his assistant, Billy Brown, have been more than two decades in management, yet never been out of work for any length of time.
And then there are the successes on the field, notably the four major cup finals he has been involved in - three during his first spell in charge of Hearts, and one with Kilmarnock.

But yesterday, as he looked back on his 23 years as a manager, Jefferies singled out one of those finals as the major source of regret during his time in football.

It was not, of course, the match itself - the Scottish Cup final of 1998, in which Hearts beat Rangers to lift the trophy for the first time in 42 years - which still causes the Tynecastle manager to think of what might have been. It was the consequence of that success - specifically, the fact that so many players who were involved that day soon left, when if they had stayed there was a fair chance of further honours coming Hearts' way.

"That team had a chance to achieve and win more than that," Jefferies said. "But, when you are successful, other sides come calling and you can't stop them.

"A lot of those players went on to play for big clubs. Some got moves to England and Neil McCann moved to Rangers. It was very difficult when I had as good a team as that to keep it together and that is my only regret.

"I would have loved to have had that Hearts team together for another three or four years. If we had kept them all together the following season we could have challenged for the SPL title.

"We lost Neil McCann and he was a big, big player for us and then others were coming to the end of their contracts and clubs were coming in and offering them deals elsewhere. You have to accept that the club had to cash in at the time.

"We bought McCann from Dundee for £180,000 and sold him to Rangers for £2 million. David Weir moved to Everton when Walter Smith took him.

"These things happen and you have to accept it, but that Hearts team would have a good chance of winning the league. That's the down side of football and it is a regret that I built that side and it took us three years to do that and it got dismantled so quickly.

"That Hearts team I believe could have won more.

There is some small comfort and pleasure in the fact that they all went on and did well in their careers."

Football has expanded massively as an industry since Jefferies first moved from playing to managing, and he recalled that in his early days at Falkirk he had responsibility for all sorts of duties that these days would be dealt with by someone else.

"At Falkirk the tea lady would have to come to me if she wanted to buy tea bags. Then I would have to go and see someone. That was the type of thing that went on. Anything that had to be done with regard to the club had to go through the manager.

"It's different nowadays and you have to adapt to that. To stay in the game you have to change and accept things and do what you can. Sometimes it's hard when there are things you are not happy about, but you have to accept that. It's part and parcel of the game - sometimes you don't agree with everything, but there's not a lot you can do about it. If that's the way certain clubs want to go you have to accept it and make the best of it.

"Chief executives and others have come in and some of it is good and some of it is not so good when that responsibility gets taken away. Sometimes things get diluted a little bit too much, but that's football. That's what has happened down the years."

Jefferies is now only a couple of years away from the age at which he always thought he might call it a day, but he reserves the right to change his mind. "My target was always to do this job until I was around 62 and see how I felt then. I still wake up in the morning and look forward to going in.

"I have the drive to do it. I just feel the same way I did ten or 15 years ago - but wiser.

"Maybe at 62 I will feel like going again. I won't put any time limit at all. I'll see how I feel. But I would always want to stay in the game in some capacity."

For the moment, however, Jefferies is doing pretty well in his current capacity, having taken Hearts up to third in the SPL thanks to three wins in a row. A fourth at home to Hamilton Accies tomorrow would entrench his team in that position - and perhaps ensure he still has a smile on his face when his birthday comes around.

Taken from the Scotsman

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