NO-ONE is as committed to Hearts as caretaker manager Gary Locke, according to Mehdi Taouil.
That is the case now, and it was just as much the case when the Moroccan midfielder and his current boss were both Kilmarnock players, and shared a car on their way to training.
Most footballers may be content to listen to music on their travels, and Taouil certainly was. Unfortunately for him, Locke had different priorities, and insisted on harping on about Hearts rather then putting up with his team-mate’s hip hop.
“There was me, Lockey, David Fernandez, Colin Nish, Grant Murray,” Taouil recalled of those cross-country journeys to Ayrshire. “We all stayed in Edinburgh.
“He spoke all the time about Hearts and sometimes about games against Hibs. At Kilmarnock when we were playing Saturday and Hearts were playing on Sunday he would go to the Hearts game on Sunday and speak only about that on the way to training on Monday. I’ve never met someone who loves Hearts as much as he does.
“I told him all the time to shut up. We used to argue about that. When it was my turn to drive I used to put my music up loud and he was not a big fan of my music. Now we laugh about it – I like hip hop and rap and he was not having it.”
Taouil, who moved to Tynecastle from Rugby Park on a three-year deal in the summer of 2011, has long since learned to appreciate Locke’s monomania. Particularly when it comes to the Edinburgh derby, he is sure that nobody can motivate the Hearts squad so effectively. “He really helps to get us motivated for these games as he’s a Hearts fan, and the derbies have meant a lot to him since he was a wee kid, so having him on the staff just fires the boys up.
“The feeling when you win is fantastic, and we have not experienced that this season and we hope to do it on Sunday. We know it will be hard as Hibs have had quite good results this season. It’ll be tough, but we’ll do everything to win.”
As Taouil spoke, it was unclear whether Locke would be in charge of the visiting squad for tomorrow’s match at Easter Road. The 29-year-old insisted that he and his team-mates would go all out to win whoever was in charge, but said there would be an extra incentive to win if Locke were still at the helm.
“If he is the manager, definitely, but even if someone else comes in we’re going to have to do it as well, it’s the same. Everyone would be very, very happy for him, just as we were after Tuesday’s win against St Johnstone as he was in charge and we don’t know for how long he will be in charge. Everyone wanted to give everything for Lockey.
“I would be happy for him [to get the job long term] because I know he loves the club and how much he loves the place. I would be quite happy and I know as well he has all the qualifications to be a manager.
“I see some managers in Portugal or other countries who are really young, so I don’t see why here in Scotland the managers cannot be young. He knows the football and Scotland very well. But the board takes the decision, it’s not for me to take, but I’d be very happy if Lockey got this job.”
Now 37, Locke only ended his playing days a few years ago. But inevitably, as he moved into management, his relationship with friends such as Taouil changed, by necessity becoming more formal. “It’s a long time ago that we shared a car on the way to Kilmarnock. It’s a bit weird, as I used to play with him, then he was aassistant and now he’s manager. In football there are a lot of surprises.
“Assistant is not the same as being a manager. As assistant he would come into the changing room and have a laugh, but since John McGlynn left and he is in charge he is a little bit more reserved and he doesn’t do it any more. And that’s understandable: all the boys understand it is normal. You cannot have the same laugh with your manager as your assistant.”
There will certainly be no laughter from anyone in the away dressing- room if Hearts lose the game tomorrow, and besides the positive desire to beat Hibs, Taouil is also motivated by knowing what Locke has been like on those rare occasions when, whether as player or coach, he has lost to Hibs. “He’s not in a good mood. Not at all, We want to avoid that, and all the boys really appreciate him, and really will give 200 per cent for him.”