ANNOUNCING his resignation as Alloa Athletic manager on Saturday evening, Paul Hartley said he had “no future plans whatsoever” and would probably take a short break from football.
Given the former midfielder’s outstanding record in his two and a half years at Recreation Park, he will likely have very little time off before he starts getting offers to resume his career at other clubs.
What will make Hartley especially attractive to club chairmen is the fact that he took Alloa to two successive promotions on a minimal budget. He recruited astutely, but also got the best out of the squad with which he began.
There was no magic formula involved: instead, hard work and solid organisation were the key. By instilling good on-field habits in his players, and getting them fitter than they were before, the manager ensured they made the most of their talents.
That sounds simple enough on paper, but if it were that easy to carry out in reality, every new manager would do it. Hartley’s particular knack was knowing how to deploy his scant resources so that his team would become more than the sum of its parts.
His own playing career can only have helped him learn that lesson. Although technically gifted, he was never so extravagantly talented that he was able to walk into a place in one of the country’s leading teams. Instead, he had to work hard on making the most of himself, and he only really began to do that after then St Johnstone manager Billy Stark moved him from the wing to central midfield.
It was when Craig Levein signed him for Hearts, however, that Hartley really came into his own. A vital member of the team under Levein, Hartley subsequently struck up an extremely productive partnership with Rudi Skacel.
In recent weeks there has been speculation linking Skacel – who is a free agent and needs to work on his fitness – with Alloa. Hartley’s departure makes that far less likely to happen. Instead, the speculation will centre on Hartley himself – in particular, whether he could return to Tynecastle as a manager or coach if and when the club comes out of administration under new ownership.
Even those Hearts supporters who are completely behind Gary Locke acknowledge that the current manager would not have been given the job in normal times. By the same token, they expect that, if the Foundation of Hearts takes over, there will be a modest expansion of the coaching team, particularly now that assistant manager Billy Brown has gone.
Levein is at present the most probable arrival at Tynecastle over the summer, although it is by no means certain what role the Foundation would ask him to take. With current director of football John Murray not too far short of retiring, there is an argument for the former Scotland manager to take over that position. Some of Levein’s own associates within the game see that as the natural move for him. A return to club management, they think, would be a step down following his stint in charge of the national team.
However, Levein himself may feel he has unfinished business as a club boss. Not yet 50, he still has the energy needed for the day-to-day running of a team, and after being a successful manager with both Hearts and Dundee United, he could be keen on a return.
After the mayhem of the Romanov years and the impoverishment of administration, Hearts will need to rebuild steadily and sensibly, and Levein is seen by many influential members of the Foundation as precisely the man to do that. Hartley has shown at Alloa that he can build a squad up from very modest beginnings, and that could count in his favour when it comes to working with Levein.
On the other hand, Hartley is strong-willed and, with experience of running a club himself, may not be keen on deferring to a senior partner. Hearts are a significantly bigger club than Alloa, but the move from manager to first-team coach could still seem like a step backwards.
And, of course, before anyone is offered any football post at Hearts, a decision will have to be made about Locke, who is out of contract at the end of the season. The manager said a couple of weeks back that he had been too busy running the team to think about the possibility of working with or under someone else next season, but he may have to find the time to do so soon. Given his commitment to Hearts, it would be a surprise if Locke refused point-blank to go back to being first-team coach or assistant manager.
One other factor likely to count against Hartley at Tynecastle is the perception that some people have of him as impetuous. He insisted at the weekend that he had taken Alloa as far as he could and had been thinking of leaving for several weeks, but the apparently precipitate nature of his departure will not impress potential employers looking for long-term commitment.
Of course, there is no vacancy at Hearts at the moment. And even if there is one come the summer, it is sure not to be the only one in the Scottish game. No matter if his former club approaches him or not, after such an impressive start to his managerial career, Hartley is certain to be back in the game before long.
Hold on to our overpaid footballers? It’s a banker
ALTHOUGH by no means a habitual reader of financial stories, I was attracted by one piece in last Thursday’s Scotsman. Or, rather, by its headline, which began: “Bankers are like top footballers”.
Where does the similarity lie, I wondered? Do bankers also spend thousands on grooming products and carry little Louis Vuitton toilet bags around everywhere?
No. According to author Anthony Browne – who, as the chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, may just have an agenda here – bankers are like top footballers because, as the headline continued, “they can take their talents – and their earnings – elsewhere”.
Footballers, Browne wrote in advancement of his argument against a cap on bankers’ pay, “are in a global marketplace and if their club does not pay them enough they can move leagues or out of Scotland. Similarly, bankers can easily set up operations in New York, Hong Kong or Singapore where there are no such restrictions on pay.” Very well. But let’s counter that with a way in which “top footballers” are not like bankers.
Top footballers have to get results. Good results, consistently. Top footballers do not receive bonuses for doing badly. If top footballers started scoring own goals every week, they would soon no longer be regarded as top footballers. And if top footballers somehow contrived to undermine the economic foundations of their clubs, until the very existence of world football as we know it was at risk, we would laugh at them if they threatened to take their talent elsewhere. Or jail them for reckless behaviour.
But we like our footballers, ludicrously overpaid though some are. They are gifted, and entertaining, so when they threaten to take their talent elsewhere we beg them to stay.
On the other hand, if bankers threatened to take their talent elsewhere in search of the odd million or two extra in their pay packet, we might be inclined to ask them a blunt question. What f****** talent?