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Paulo Sergio <-auth Richard Wilson auth-> Steve O'Reilly
20 of 024 -----L SPL A

Two very different clubs, two very similar problems

Richard Wilson

8 Nov 2011

IN eight weeks, Hearts will travel across Edinburgh to Easter Road for the first fixture of the new year.

It is likely that Hibernian will have a new manager by then, and perhaps a sense of calm might even have descended on their old rivals.

It is a small hope, this vague prospect, for two sets of supporters who are currently equal only in their shared anxieties.

If crisis might be too strong, or provocative, a term, it is enough to view the troubles of Hearts and Hibs as an enduring angst.

At Tynecastle, most of the co-operation with the media has been withdrawn, the manager Paulo Sergio is forever on the verge of histrionics, the players regularly have to deal with the late arrival of their wages and the objectives of the owner Vladimir Romanov can barely be separated from his diatribes.

An older, wiser figure might be better equipped to revive Hibs, and create a stable environment

By suggesting that he is considering selling either the club or at least some of his majority shareholding, Romanov has created further doubt around Tynecastle.

At Easter Road, the sacking of Colin Calderwood leaves Hibs looking for their fifth manager in four years, while a mood of discontent towards the board, and Rod Petrie in particular, is spreading. The chairman has been a shrewd and conscientious decision-maker in all but his dealings with the managers he appoints.

Calderwood arrived in Edinburgh with a decent record and a good reputation within the game, but it was soon clear that he and the club were ill-matched; Petrie’s mistake was to not take the opportunity allowed by Birmingham City and Nottingham Forest during the summer to let Calderwood return to England – as an assistant manager – and start again.

Petrie has lacked confidence in his managers, moving quickly to dispense with John Hughes, Calderwood’s predecessor, and failing to build a convincing relationship with Mixu Paatelainen or John Collins.

Only Tony Mowbray enjoyed a constructive spell at the club, which coincided with the emergence of a talented group of young players and, since Collins guided the team to a League Cup triumph in 2007, a malaise has settled upon Easter Road.

Petrie will face criticism from fans at today’s annual general meeting, although he retains the support of Sir Tom Farmer, the club’s majority shareholder. That may have shaped his thinking in announcing he would not play a role in appointing a new manager.

After Alex McLeish left for Rangers in December 2001, the club has appointed Franck Sauzee, Bobby Williamson, Mowbray, Collins, Paatelainen, Hughes and Calderwood.

Already, Michael O’Neill is favourite among the bookmakers and many Hibs supporters to return to Easter Road, where he spent three years as a popular midfielder during the 1990s, but he too is still making his way in management.

An encouraging spell at Brechin City has been followed by taking Shamrock Rovers to consecutive Irish league titles and the group stages of the Europa League. O’Neill’s contract also ends next month, and although he has been keen to extend the deal, he represents a smart choice in economic and football terms.

Yet an older, wiser figure might be better equipped to revive Hibs and create a more stable environment. A manager who is sure of himself and whose authority will be a match for Petrie – who runs the club with a tight rein – and also a squad that has enough talented, but underachieving players to support a quick rise up the Clydesdale Bank Premier League table.

Gordon Strachan, Jim Jefferies, Jimmy Calderwood and Billy Davies would all provide a more time-served option.

Romanov dispatches his managers with even greater impulsiveness, and in Sergio he appears to have found somebody with an equal disdain for Scottish football’s authorities.

Where the struggle across the city has been to build successful and stable teams on an affordable budget, at Tynecastle the spending has tended to be reckless. Hearts have the biggest wage bill outside the Old Firm, a rising debt and restricted income.

While Romanov’s hint that he is prepared to offload the club is significant, it is also calculating. He will not walk away from Tynecastle without trying to recoup the money he has invested during the past six years.

With no buyer likely to be interested in a club that is laden with debt and is stuck in a stadium that cannot be meaningfully redeveloped, Romanov is at an impasse, which is how his latest remarks should be judged.

Edinburgh City councillors are still being asked to study proposals for a community stadium, jointly funded by Hearts and the council, and Romanov was said to be angry the idea was dismissed last week, before a report into the plan was published yesterday.

His strong words are more likely a measure of his frustration than his intent, as well as being a sharp reminder to the council that a failure to resolve the stadium issue will endanger the club’s future.

In Hibs’ search for a new manager, and Hearts’ pursuit of a way out of their financial constraints, Edinburgh’s two clubs are involved in a more challenging, and more serious, struggle than their traditional rivalry.

Taken from the Herald

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