HEARTS assistant manager Billy Brown is to leave Tynecastle after it was decided not to renew the short-term deal he signed late last year.
Brown is expected to be in the dugout for the last time on Saturday, when the Premiership’s bottom club visit St Johnstone.
The 63-year-old, who is in his third spell at Tynecastle following two stints as assistant to Jim Jefferies, initially returned as a volunteer last summer to help out manager Gary Locke. That came after a short spell in charge of East Fife.
Hearts say they have no plans to replace Brown – who will formally leave his post on Sunday – and a statement from the club stressed “with a need to maintain financial prudence, it was felt a reduction in football costs was required”.
A club spokesman said: “We would like to put on record our gratitude to Billy for his sterling efforts in helping Gary since his arrival in July. He has been of considerable assistance to Hearts over the last six months and we know he appreciates the need to refresh the team coupled with the need for continued financial prudence. We wish him well in the future.”
Brown urged Hearts supporters to continue backing Locke and the team, and told the club website: “I am very disappointed my contract will not be renewed but that is the way things are at the club and I have to accept that. I was really pleased when I was asked to assist Gary at the start of the season.
“Having worked with Gary as a player over a great number of years I was always of the opinion that he had the making of a top manager and I’ve seen nothing to change my mind. The way he has handled a very difficult situation has been magnificent.
“I urge all supporters to get behind Gary and the team for the remainder of the season and would like to thank everybody who has helped me in my third spell at Hearts, especially the players and staff whose spirit remains remarkable.”
Meanwhile, Adam King is set to leave Hearts for Swansea straight away in the next couple of days after the Tynecastle club reversed its previous intention of holding on to the midfielder for the rest of the season. But, while Hearts have been told they can apply to replace any departing players on a one-in, one-out basis, any possible return of Rudi Skacel is still some way off, according to club sources.
And, although there were initial suggestions that Hearts could be able to augment their squad with as many as five new signings to replace the quintet who were made redundant when the club went into administration last June, it has now been confirmed that no such action will be allowed. Instead, Hearts can only request to replace players who are transferred – and because of current sanctions, they can only do that after the end of this month.
When Swansea renewed their interest in King last week, having first bid for the 18-year-old during the summer, Hearts initially wanted to negotiate a deal that would allow King to stay in Edinburgh for the rest of the season. The thinking from the coaching staff now, however, is that, while they can hardly afford to lose any more members of an already threadbare squad, there is little point in keeping a fringe player who has signed a pre-contract with another club.
The possibility of replacing King and anyone else who departs has led to increased speculation about a return for Skacel, who has already served two separate terms at Hearts. But while the 34-year-old Czech was at Tynecastle to make the half-time draw during Saturday’s 1-0 defeat by Motherwell, he is not at present close to the top of Locke’s wish list.
“There are no plans to sign anyone at the moment,” a Hearts spokesperson said yesterday. Although the club are now actively scouting for new players, that statement would appear to rule out an imminent return for Skacel, or for Andrew Driver, another former Scottish Cup winner with Hearts who has been linked with the club in recent days. Contrary to some reports, Skacel has not trained with the club over the past few days, as he has a thigh strain. As Skacel’s registration is currently held by the Czech Football Association after his most recent spell with Slavia Prague, an International Transfer Certificate would also be required to register him, meaning it would be unlikely he would be eligible to feature in the League Cup semi-final against Inverness Caley Thistle at Easter Road early next month.
Nonetheless, even the possibility of a return for the talismanic midfielder has boosted the spirits of a support who have had little to cheer about this season. Skacel won the Scottish Cup during both his spells as a player at Tynecastle, in 2006 and 2012, and has never lost a Scottish Cup tie as a Hearts player. He has also been linked with Alloa, who are managed by his former team-mate Paul Hartley. A short-term deal there could at least allow him to regain match fitness prior to a move to Tynecastle, although any such move would be purely at the discretion of the Scottish Premier Football League.
The SPFL’s executives appear free to decide for themselves whether to admit a Hearts request for a replacement. No matter if the Tynecastle club appear hopelessly adrift at the bottom of the Premiership at the moment, it seems unlikely that other clubs would allow a player of Skacel’s stature the chance of sparking a revival.
What is not a matter of discretion, however, is the issue of replacing redundant players. Five players were officially put in this category shortly after BDO took over at Tynecastle: Andrew Driver, Marius Zaliukas, John Sutton and two members of the youth squad. Despite speculation that all might be replaceable if the SPFL allowed, it was made clear yesterday that no such arrangement was possible.
“We simply asked the question of the SPFL regarding whether redundancies made last year would count towards the one-in, one-out policy,” Bryan Jackson of BDO said. “They have provided clarification that those players do not count.
“That is understandable, as a club could feasibly take advantage of that by making several players redundant – and not have to fully pay up those contracts – in order to get others in. They have confirmed that if one goes out then we can make an application for one to come in, so we now have clarification regarding the situation.”
The SFA has also ruled out any clemency on sanctions imposed on Hearts but chief executive Stewart Regan revealed talks were under way to help prevent more clubs finding themselves in financial trouble.
Regan insisted there was no way the transfer SFA registration sanction would be lifted early. Regan said: “You have to feel sorry for the position that those players are in and the position the club finds itself in. It’s always difficult when you see a club going through a period like Hearts have gone through.
“However, you have to balance that with applying the rules and that’s the job of the Scottish FA, to apply the rules. That’s what we have done. The club were given a sanction by an independent panel and that sanction will run out on 31 January. You can’t have one rule for one and one rule for the other.”
PFA Scotland chief executive Fraser Wishart admitted concern over the health of Locke’s young squad but no-one from the club has sought his help. Wishart said: “We haven’t had any contact from anybody at Hearts over this matter but as a players’ union the Hearts’ case is twofold.
“One is the health and safety of the lads who are still there, and we also have to keep in mind that five of our members were made redundant in the summer and suffered a loss, for which they haven’t been compensated yet.
“We have worked very closely with administrators BDO and, as a result of that, it’s explicit within the CVA (Company Voluntary Arrangement) document that football debt, which includes debt owed to those who were made redundant, will be taken up by the new owners.”
Locke was at least able to deliver one piece of good news yesterday when he revealed that left-back Kevin McHattie was set to return to training later in the week after coming off during Saturday’s 1-0 defeat by Motherwell with a tight hamstring.