HEARTS have approached Phil Anderton about the possibility of succeeding Chris Robinson as chief executive of the Tynecastle club.
Anderton, who resigned as chief executive of the Scottish Rugby Union last month, is understood to be keen on making the switch to football.
A number of sporting bodies and clubs have contacted the marketing expert since his departure from Murrayfield, but Hearts are favourites to secure his services. A source close to Vladimir Romanov, the Lithuanian who recently bought a controlling interest in the Gorgie club, confirmed: "Anderton has been spoken to."
Anderton, 39, became chief executive of the SRU last March after a successful spell as commercial and marketing director. But he was effectively forced out in January following a bitter power struggle. He has already developed a good relationship with Hearts, having helped broker the deal to allow the club to use Murrayfield for European games this season. He was a guest of Romanov’s at the recent CIS Insurance Cup semi-final against Motherwell at Easter Road.
Romanov installed fellow Lithuanian Sergejus Fedotovas, as his acting chief executive following Robinson’s resignation. However, the plan was always to find a permanent successor with a knowledge of Scottish sport and the Edinburgh business community. Anderton fits the bill perfectly.
George Foulkes, the Hearts chairman, said yesterday the club was hoping to announce a new chief executive within weeks. He refused to discuss Anderton, but said: "A number of people have expressed interest in the job and I am very pleased with the quality of people who we have spoken with.
"I think everybody recognises that we have got over the problems of recent months; we still have debts but it’s all under control and the board and supporters are working together and moving in the right direction. There is definitely a happier atmosphere around Tynecastle now, but we need someone who can work out a business plan that can take us forward over the next few years. All the elements are there and the appointment of the chief executive would be the final piece in the jigsaw.
"I don’t think it’s fair on any of the candidates to discuss their chances or who might be in the running, because the appointment is not going to happen within the next week, but we are confident that we will be in a position to report to the Stock Exchange on a new chief executive within the next month."
Anderton said: "Obviously, having resigned from Scottish Rugby I’m looking carefully at my options and want to make sure I make the right decision. When I get a new job I’ll let you know what I’m doing."
Foulkes, meanwhile, has confirmed that Anatoly Byshovets’
involvement at Hearts would be restricted to a scouting capacity and insisted the veteran Ukrainian coach was never considered as director of football.
Byshovets, the former USSR player and coach, was consistently linked with the director of football post during Romanov’s protracted takeover at Hearts, prompting speculation over the future of head coach John Robertson, who was unsettled by the prospect.
But according to Foulkes, at no point did Romanov propose to the Hearts board that Byshovets would be appointed as director of football.
"There has been a misunderstanding from the start about Anatoly’s role for the club," said Foulkes. "It was suggested at the start, by whom I don’t remember, that he would be coming in as a director of football. However, that was never, ever suggested by Vladimir Romanov and was never put to the board.
"People kept asking John Robertson about it and in the perception of many it placed some doubt over John’s position. Maybe we didn’t explain it properly or spell it out clearly enough, but it was always my understanding that Anatoly is Vladimir Romanov’s advisor on his football interests, in Kaunas, Minsk and now at Hearts.
"As such, he will continue to identify any players, principally from the Baltic and Russian markets, who may be of interest to John Robertson. He is, if you like, a super scout and will hopefully continue to identify players in the mould of the three Lithuanians who have already joined us and who all look like excellent signings."
Despite Foulkes’ claim, it is difficult to avoid the belief Hearts, or at least Romanov, have completed a volte-face over Byshovets’ brief. When he entered the dressing-room following the UEFA Cup victory in Basel, asking the players’ to turn down the volume of their celebratory music, and subsequently spent time on the training pitch alongside Robertson, it seemed Byshovets was keen to adopt a hands-on role.
Robertson, though, has clearly convinced Romanov that his position as coach should not be undermined. The initial evidence provided by Deividas Cesnauskas and Saulius Mikoliunas, Lithuanian players recommended by Byshovets and signed by Hearts, suggests the pair can operate successfully in a more distant relationship.
"John is, and will remain, head coach with complete responsibility for coaching the team, deciding which players’ contracts will be renewed and which players’ come in and go out of the club," added Foulkes. "John is doing a very good job and Vladimir Romanov recognises that."
Hearts’ Scottish Cup quarter-final tie with Livingston at Tynecastle will be played on Sunday, 27 February.