IN a boardroom that could be varnished several times over with hubris, the familiar task of raising as much income as is possible over the next few days has already begun at Tynecastle.
Another remarkable statement released by Hearts has managed to offend supporters while at the same time also alerting rival clubs to their quickly worsening predicament. The Tynecastle club have urged fans to dig deep into pockets already well-explored after previous appeals. The statement’s tone could not be described as meek.
The gist of it is this; the season ticket money has already “dried up” and so therefore we are going to have to put into place another drastic plan, which this time involves putting the entire first-team squad up for sale.
At least Hearts cannot now be accused of concealing the true extent of their troubles. If anything, they are now perhaps guilty of ratcheting up anxiety among fans in a bid to lever their way out of another mess, one attributed to several years of financial mismanagement, and not, as the statement suggests, last season’s poor league finish.
And neither can this bleak state of affairs be linked to the absence of Rangers from the Scottish Premier League, another brazen claim on the club’s website yesterday.
The club has again attempted to induce some panic among fans. It is a tactic they employed at the end of last year, when raising the prospect that a match against St Mirren in November could be the last one ever played by the club, following a winding-up order issued by HMRC over an unpaid bill. More than £1 million was raised by fans through a share issue. And now, here we are again, with the burden of responsibility again placed on the shoulders of supporters who are likely to be suffering their own financial concerns in their own lives.
With time of the essence, attention has turned to the players left on the club’s books. The trouble is it is not a seller’s market, and it hasn’t been one for several years, certainly in Scotland. Hundreds of decent professionals are free agents this summer looking for clubs, no fee required.
The club’s announcement that they are willing to “consider offers for the players of the current squad” shouldn’t in itself be a surprise. The plan was included in the annual accounts, released last month, though the auditors did not sound convinced about its merits, noting, with reference to the player sales income projection for the coming 12 months, that “the uncertain nature of income streams represents a significant uncertainty which could impact on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern”.
Hearts are further hindered by being depicted, courtesy of their own statement, as being in dire straits. Other clubs are now aware, if they hadn’t been before, that they are utterly desperate to shift players. It hardly puts them in a position where they can expect to be robust negotiators. And who in any case can they hope might fetch good money?
As good as their young players were last season, are clubs going to consider paying much money for players who have yet to fulfil their potential?
The availability of the likes of Kevin McHattie, Jason Holt, Callum Paterson and Jamie Walker will spark some interest, and rightly so, but it does seem a crying shame that Hearts are considering letting such talent go now, when they might have developed into players who could be sold on for acceptable sums in the future.
And who among their more seasoned campaigners will Hearts be able to move on, never mind command a decent fee? Midfielder Ryan Stevenson, perhaps, or Jamie MacDonald, the impressively solid goalkeeper?
And then there is the strange case of Danny Wilson. Yesterday’s news will surely have astounded the full-back, who signed a three-year deal at the club as recently as three weeks ago.
At the time, the announcement raised eyebrows. Allan Preston, the player’s representative, had only arrived back from a trip to Portugal yesterday when he heard the news. He was still digesting it when contacted by The Scotsman yesterday and had no comment to make.
Having had his profile enhanced last season by his return to first-team football while on loan at Hearts from Liverpool, Wilson is a reasonably saleable asset. However, given that he could have been signed for free a few weeks ago, when he was a free agent, there might not be much appetite among clubs to now pay a fee for the Scotland international.
“I said all along that if the opportunity came along to sign for Hearts, then I would take it,” Wilson said at the time of his signing. “I did ask the question [about Hearts’ future].
“The club have said along that there is nothing to concern ourselves with just now.
“I don’t think the club would offer me a contract if there was no future here.”
The player has now been disabused of this quaint notion, while other clubs have been alerted to further desperate times at Tynecastle.
Selling their way out of this latest financial crisis might once have been an option. Sadly, it isn’t now.