Romanov delivers big style
DECRYING Vladimir Romanov has become a favoured pastime for the cynics of Scottish football over the last year, but yesterday the Lithuanian banker delivered the most unequivocal and astonishing statement of his intent without even being within a mile's radius of Tynecastle.
Hearts' parading of Mirsad Beslija, Juho Makela, Chris Hackett, Bruno Aguiar and Jose Goncalves as five transfer deadline-day signings, plus the conclusion late last night of deals for Rais M'Bolhi, Martin Petras and Ludek Straceny, denies anyone the justification for aiming allegations of broken promises at Hearts' majority shareholder. Romanov is proving a man of true word.
Between the end of August and Hogmanay last year there were various intimations that January would be a restless but rewarding month for Romanov's employees and followers in Gorgie. Yesterday saw his intentions bared for the entire world, and particularly rivals in Glasgow, to see.
Beslija and Makela completed three-and-a-half year contracts to sign directly for the club, with Hackett joining on a two-and-a-half year deal.
M'Bolhi was secured until the summer whilst Petras and Straceny signed to Romanov's other club, FBK Kaunas, before being loaned to Tynecastle until the end of the season. Aguiar and Goncalves have tied themselves to Kaunas for three-and-a-half years and have also been instantly loaned to the title push in Edinburgh.
And make no mistake, yesterday affirmed that Romanov is craving this SPL championship. Badly. With Lee Johnson, Neil McCann and Nerijus Barasa having arrived earlier this month, Hearts' January "ins" now total 11, their bank balance consequently robbed of another 2million only weeks after Romanov wiped that very amount from the club's 20m debt.
An influx of new Indians naturally requires extra chiefs, thus Jim Duffy has been roped in to assist head coach Graham Rix in a reunification of close friends who were previously together at Chelsea and Dundee. The ferocity and hysteria of all this activity prompted one fan on a Hearts supporters' internet forum last night to post a topic titled "I want to buy next year's season ticket now!"
That ticket, when printed, may grant regular access to Murrayfield as opposed to Tynecastle whilst Hearts attempt to reconstruct their main stand.
When building begins, Romanov had better ensure that the architect has accommodated plans for an expansive home dressing room.
"This has been the busiest month of my life," said Rix. "But getting all these players shows it's been worth it. Since I've been here Vladimir Romanov has only ever been 100 per cent behind me. He gets stick but he has put his money where his mouth is."
Perhaps more pertinently for Rix, Romanov's extravagance during this month has provided the concurrent satisfaction that the head coach has become the most financially-backed manager in Hearts' history. And, subsequently, the club's standing is rising every day, proved by another new English recruit.
"As soon as I knew Graham and Hearts were interested it was an easy choice," said Hackett. "I knew through Graham what the set-up was like here and I worked with him before. It's been well documented in England what Hearts have been doing this season and I wanted to get up here straight away.
"Graham has been fantastic with me and I'm confident he can help me learn more.
"I was in the stand last Saturday and the atmosphere blew me away. At Oxford we played in front of around six or seven thousand, which is decent crowds in League Two, but nothing compared to this. We are aiming for Champions League football here, so for me to go from League Two to being potentially in Europe next year is unthinkable.
"I know Lee Johnson quite well from our time in England and I think we've helped each other settle here because we are in the hotel together at the moment."
That plush retreat is now in danger of losing its licence due to overcrowding as Hearts fill room after room with new signings. Indeed, Rix has not been the only one exhausted of late. His new boys have been forced to rise before dawn to ensure they are not left with the breakfast scraps after being last down each morning.
The five who were put before the media yesterday understandably showed little evidence of camaraderie as a range of European cultures and languages crossed in Tynecastle's Gorgie Suite. It is likely that the players in question would also have been less than enamoured sitting side by side in front of a gathered audience like angst-ridden guests on the Jerry Springer Show.
However, come Saturday it will matter not when they take to a more familiar stage to demonstrate their common talent on the Tynecastle pitch. "I am looking forward to seeing the Hearts crowd because I have heard much about them," said Makela. "At Helsinki, I had a good relationship with the fans and I was twice voted their favourite player.
"Here there is much more competition but I do not fear for my position. Hearts needed a striker so I know there is a place for me. I prefer to play with another big striker beside me, and I know that Edgaras Jankauskas is here so maybe that can be a good partnership."
Aguiar's head is presently a mixture of elation and sadness at leaving Benfica for Hearts. "Everything I am as a player, I owe to Benfica. The club is in my heart, they helped me win the Portuguese title last year and I will never forget that. Now I am here to win another title. I have watched Hearts, I have been training with the players and there is good quality here. We can work together to make this happen."
Goncalves helped Hearts convey their statement of intent to the Glasgow clubs when he ignored interest from Rangers in favour of Tynecastle. "I had clubs in England who made me offers too," admitted the defender. "I have played in the Champions League with FC Thun but I liked Hearts' mentality and ambition. I think both clubs are similar. I watched Hearts play against FC Basel two years ago and I think Scottish football is similar to England. It makes you work for 90 minutes. Hearts gave me the best proposition. I didn't come here for money, I came to realise ambitions. That is my motivation."
Whilst these new recruits were waxing lyrical, Romanov was elsewhere in the city attempting to conclude deals for M'Bolhi, Petras and Straceny. The latter pair were the last to be registered with the SFA last night at precisely 11.58pm, just two minutes prior to the closure of this season's final transfer window. Romanov is acutely aware of the impression that his month's work will create amongst the football community of Scotland and beyond. And there is little doubt he is now savouring every second.
Those critics who wish only to remain defiant will continue in their scoffing at Hearts' majority shareholder. Yes, Romanov sacked George Burley when the Jambos were unbeaten and topping the SPL. Yes, the popular chief executive Phil Anderton was handed his cards soon after. Yes, controversy was virtually invited with the appointment of Graham Rix as head coach. But it is worth pondering whether the conglomerate of players we saw wrapping maroon scarves around their throats yesterday would have been possible with Burley still in charge, given that the former manager's relationship with Romanov, specifically when dealing with player recruitment, was about as harmonious as a Man United goal celebration against Liverpool.
The Rix-Romanov partnership has now bedded in, and yesterday proved it is nothing if not productive. The Hearts owner has delivered on his promises, it's now down to the head coach to try to deliver the SPL crown.
Position: Central midfielder.
Fee: Free agent.
Previous clubs: Benfica, FC Alverca, Gil Vicente, Beira-Mar.
Stats: Made 18 league appearances for Benfica last season as they captured their first Portuguese Superliga title in over a decade.
Additional info: Aguiar has been on Benfica's books since the age of nine and has spent various loan spells with the clubs listed above.
Position: Right winger.
Previous clubs: Racing Genk, Zeljeznicar Sarajevo, Bosna Visoko.
Stats: Bosnian international with 39 caps.
Additional info: Beslija's transfer developed into a saga as Hearts and Genk struggled to agree on fees for agents. Reputedly one of the fastest players in Europe.
Previous clubs: FC Thun, Venezia, FC Winterthur, FC Basel, Yverdon-Sport, La Sallaz.
Stats: Played in all six of FC Thun's Champions League group stages matches earlier this year.
Additional info: Goncalves moved to Switzerland at the age of two and would have been eligible for Swiss citizenship later this year.
Position: Right winger.
Previous club: Oxford United.
Stats: 138 games for Oxford; nine goals.
Additional info: Labelled "the faster player in the league" by Oxford boss Brian Talbot.
Previous clubs: HJK Helsinki, Oulu Tervarit, Oulun.
Stats: Scored 33 goals in 41 appearances over two years for Helsinki.
Additional info: He has just broken through to the full international squad.
Fee: Free agent.
Previous clubs: Marseille
Stats: Played one first-team game for Marseille last season
Additional info: Was promoted from Marseille's reserve side but failed to make an impact at the Velodrome and was released from his contract, which ran to 2008, earlier this year.
Previous clubs: Sparta Prague, FK Jablonec, Banik Priedviedza.
Stats: Has 11 caps for the Slovakian national team and won the Czech title with Sparta Prague in 2003.
Additional info: Signed to FBK Kaunas and loaned to Hearts until the end of the season. Petras was the victim of a two-footed tackle by David Beckham whilst on international duty in October 2003, an incident which led to his team-mate Miroslav Karhan calling the England captain a "cry-baby".
Position: Attacking midfielder/forward.
Previous clubs: Viktoria Zizkov, Sparta Prague, SK Chrudim, FK Ricany.
Stats: Spent six years with Viktoria Zizkov since joining from Sparta Prague in 1999.
Additional info: Signed to FBK Kaunas and loaned to Hearts until the end of the season. Scored in the first leg to helped Viktoria Zizkov eliminate Rangers from the 2002-03 UEFA Cup.
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