TWELVE months ago, John McGlynn was between appointments against Ayr United and Dundee as Raith Rovers continued with a dogged battle to stay in the First Division.
Fast forward a year, and he is expressing surprise at being asked questions about football – “I was getting lessons from Gordon Brown about how to do politics,” he quipped – following a stormy start to life as manager at Hearts.
It has been quite a year. “What does not kill you makes you stronger,” said McGlynn on more than one occasion yesterday. One reporter noted that the Hearts manager should have shoulders “like Charles Atlas” after bearing the burden of numerous fall-outs from the financial travails at both Raith and Hearts.
In both cases, he has managed to operate manfully in trying circumstances. Although it is only seven months since Hearts thrashed Hibs 5-1 to lift the Scottish Cup, it is still somewhat surprising to note that it is possible that the Tynecastle club might overhaul their rivals in the league before the winter break begins.
The teams meet each other at Tynecastle next week but it is conceivable that Hearts could move above Hibs this afternoon. The Tynecastle club, who have an injury doubt over skipper Andy Webster, travel to take on Ross County. Hibs, meanwhile, entertain champions Celtic at home. “It is a possibility,” said McGlynn, clearly trying to manage expectations. However, he knows what would represent a more than satisfying outcome before the Scottish Premier League begins its short winter shutdown.
On 25 points at present, he said he would be “very happy” if the 31-point mark was reached by “10pm on 3 January”. Then it’s off to the Costa del Riccarton. As with his opposite number at Hibs, McGlynn is well aware that there is no use even broaching the question of a trip away anywhere. “It would be nice to have a few days in the sun, but it’s unrealistic,” he said. “We can’t afford to go off to Marbella.”
It isn’t as if he is used to operating in less straitened circumstances. Indeed, it is all he has known as a manager. At Raith, the most he spent on a player was £7,000. In over five years at the helm at Stark’s Park, he did not spend more than £15,000. “What I have got here at Hearts is a great youth policy,” he said. “That was my brief when I came here, to bring through the young players.”
He has no regrets about returning to Hearts, even though, in his own words, it has been “one thing after another”. But did he want a quieter life? “Not really,” he said. “It’s a big, big challenge. It’s a great football club and the players have been fantastic.”
The timing of his arrival, he added, might have been “a wee bit bad”, but then he knows that had the club been in robust health he might never have had the opportunity to step up from the First Division. “When I was here previously, I had to deal with a few difficult situations and that has stood me in good stead to deal with what’s cropped up this time around,” he said.
“There’s been amazing things too,” he added. “I’ve come back here and we have played Liverpool home and away, and given them two very difficult games. That was a massive step in my development, being able to pit my wits against those types of players and also Brendan Rodgers.”
Although it is likely to get worse before it gets better, McGlynn is confident that he will be allowed to build his own team at Tynecastle before long. Asked for his hopes for the year ahead, he said: “Well, I’d like to start off in January by winning a semi-final [against Inverness Caledonian Thistle] and getting to another cup final.
“That is another reason why I came to Hearts, to be in semi-finals and finals and to be competing at the top end of the table.
“We need to look to try and keep as many players as we possibly can and then at some point in the season try and progress up that table and maybe even compete at the top of the table.
“We are not far away from doing that, even allowing for all the obstacles that have been put in our way. We cannot win the Scottish Cup this season but we hope to progress in the season and then bring other players in in the summer. Some players will probably go, if not in January then at the end of the season.
“Hopefully I will be given the opportunity to build a team. That will be another transitional period. I think most people recognise we are going through a transitional period right now, and then another one in the summer. That is how it will be.”
Full-back Ryan McGowan is among those linked with a move elsewhere in the next transfer window, and McGlynn is philosophical about what might unfold in January. There is not much he can do, particularly given the current transfer embargo that prohibits him from bringing anyone in. “When you look at the record of Mr Romanov, he has managed to get a lot of money for players who have left the football club,” he said. “I don’t know if they need X amount of money to come in, or if they will accept lower offers or if they will bite the bullet and hope the revenue from a potential appearance in the League Cup final might be enough to let us get by with the players we’ve got.
“From a manager’s point of view, I would like as many players as possible to stay because it gives me the best chance of doing my job properly,” he added. “If you look at the stats, our defence, in particular, is very good, so I wouldn’t like to lose anyone from there. But that might be the area of my team most sought after by others. I’ll deal with that issue if it arises. The main thing is Heart of Midlothian survive the circumstances we’re in,” he added. “And we’re not out of the woods yet.”