“THERE is probably nobody better to take over. He has played at this club for a long period of time and knows what it means. The boys will be right behind him...” Andy Webster’s words reveal the Hearts players’ feelings on Gary Locke potentially becoming their new manager.
Locke himself is interested in the role after more than three years as first-team coach, stressing it would be his “dream job”.
The decision rests with Vladimir Romanov, the club’s majority shareholder, and his right-hand man Sergejus Fedotovas. Nothing will be decided quickly following the removal of John McGlynn on Thursday morning.
Locke gets the chance to prove his worth today when he and Darren Murray, Hearts’ player development manager and under-20 coach, below right, take charge of the first team against Motherwell as interim managers. They will be assisted by Edgaras Jankauskas.
Locke’s excitement shines through when speaking about the opportunity. He is a lifelong Hearts fan and feels honoured to get the chance to take the team, even temporarily.
Fedotovas says a manager with experience is vital, but the board could be persuaded to consider Locke and Murray as serious contenders if results take a dramatic upturn.
McGlynn was sacked for dreadful league form with Hearts 11th in the Scottish Premier League. Financial problems and the loss of key players left him with a team full of youth academy players and badly lacking experience.
If Locke and Murray can galvanise the squad against Motherwell today and St Johnstone on Tuesday, their stock will rise rapidly. Both men know that themselves, although Locke is wisely playing down the notion of him becoming manager permanently. “Me and Darren were pulled in on Thursday morning and told we’re in charge against Motherwell. That’s as far as I’m looking,” he said.
“This is a fantastic club with a fantastic history. It’s a dream job in my opinion, but I’m a bit biased. It’s a huge club with huge potential. I’m sure there will be plenty people looking to come in here. Look at the amount of fantastic people out there who are out of work. I’m sure an opportunity to manage Heart of Midlothian would be high on their list of priorities. I think the board will be inundated with applications.
“This club means a lot to me. I just want to see Hearts winning. I’ve been first-team coach here for over three years now and I’ve loved every minute of it, some good and some bad.
“I love coming in here every morning and working with the players on the training pitch. I don’t have a magic wand. We haven’t done enough in games to win them this season, that’s why were in this league position.
“We’ll try to get the players up for the game today, get the motivated and organised and hopefully they put in a performance that merits wearing the Hearts jersey.”
Asked if he will formally apply for the vacancy, Locke said: “I don’t think I need to apply. I’m here, they know I’m here and they know what I’m capable of. I’ve got all the licences.
“The club are talking to candidates, I believe. If they think I’m the man for the job, then great. If not, who knows what will happen?” No-one will be allowed to call him “gaffer” in any case. “We’re certainly not at that stage. I’m quite happy with ‘Lockie’,” he smiled.
At 37, Locke is far from the youngest man to be control of the first team at Tynecastle. Englishman Frank Moss was appointed Hearts manager in March 1937 at the age of just 28. Since then, Bobby Moncur (35), Tony Ford (36), Alex MacDonald (player/manager, 33), Sandy Clark (33) and Craig Levein (36) have all been younger than Locke. The current incumbent intends to use all his experience to rejuvenate the squad.
“I told the players we’re in this position because we haven’t been doing well enough. There are five league games until the split and there’s a League Cup final to look forward to,” said the former club captain.
“When you put so many young players in the team, you are going to get indifferent performances.
“I came into the Hearts team with Allan Johnston, Allan McManus and Paul Ritchie, but we had Gary Mackay, John Robertson, Dave McPherson and Craig Levein.
“At the moment, we don’t have that experience in the side and it is difficult. We aren’t making that as an excuse. The young boys are in the team because we feel they’re good enough.”
The most experienced player in the current squad is Webster. Despite enduring numerous managerial changes in his two spells with Hearts, he explained his shock at McGlynn’s departure: “We worked with the manager pretty much every day and I don’t think it becomes any easier. Players, individually and collectively, need to take responsibility for what has gone on. You’re always going to have that slight feeling of guilt or ask: ‘Could I have done more?’
“Football is a results-driven business. For us to be 11th in the league is not acceptable. I know circumstances have been difficult, but this is a massive football club. To be where we are is just not acceptable.”
Locke echoed the defender’s sentiments at the end of another turbulent few days at Riccarton. “It has been difficult. We’re all deeply disappointed to see the manager relieved of his duties, but we have a game today that myself, Darren and Edgaras have been put in charge of.
“We need to get the club back on track. We’re in a bad position in the league and we need to pick ourselves up. Everyone here feels we shouldn’t be in this position so we need to rally round and be as positive as we can be against a very good Motherwell team.
“First thing on Thursday morning, the manager [McGlynn] came in and, as usual, it was: ‘How are you this morning?’ His answer was ‘not very good’ because he had been relieved of his duties. He said it was disappointing to lose his job, but told me that, if I get an opportunity, to try and take it. Hopefully we can get a result for him today.
“John’s work-rate at this club was phenomenal. He was here first thing in the morning until sometimes ten or 11 o’clock at night. He watched games all over the place. His reputation in the game is very, very high. I loved working with him.”
Locke felt McGlynn deserved more time after just eight months in charge and constant upheaval to cope with behind the scenes. “Yes, I think so. It has been a very difficult period as everyone knows. We’re still in a bad financial position and we’ve lost a lot of quality players. A lot of fantastic young players have come in, but they need experience as well.
“Looking around the squad in the hotel the other night there before the St Mirren game, it is very youthful. The kids are in there because we feel they’re good enough, but it’s time to step up to the plate and do better than we have been doing.
“You go home at nights, especially when you have a strong affiliation with the club, and you can get a wee bit down. You just need to try and be positive and I’m always positive about everything.
“You need to come in here with your head up and work hard every day. Hopefully we’ll reap our rewards between now and the end of the season. We want three points today to put a smile back on the faces of everyone associated with Hearts.”