JOHN McGLYNN must dread pre-match press conferences. It seems that every week the Hearts manager is interrogated about issues which have nothing to do with what he wants to be talking about – namely 22 men battling to put a ball in a net.
Such is the nature of life at Hearts these days, it is matters off the field that continue to dominate the agenda. McGlynn, to his eternal credit, is the man who routinely fronts up to try and take the heat off his paymasters.
If the 51-year-old’s critics could see first-hand how he handles himself in his weekly gatherings with the media at Riccarton, they would surely cut him a degree of slack. When he emerges to take his seat in front of the waiting press corps, he is effectively being placed between a rock and a hard place.
He knows he has a duty to be as honest and transparent as possible with the supporters, who have shown exceptional commitment in rallying to help keep their club afloat. This has to be countered, however, by a need to keep some issues surrounding the team “in-house”, while also avoiding saying anything that could incur the wrath of his employers.
Despite constantly having to bat away awkward enquiries, his pride at being Hearts manager shines through week in, week out as he fights his club’s corner on every issue.
Over the past two months alone, his dream job has seen him discuss battles to save the club, late payment of players, transfer embargoes and whether or not it is morally right to sign new players while fans battle to save the club and the current squad defer pay.
None of these issues have been caused by McGlynn. Yet, in the absence of more senior figures, he is the man the media are forced to look to for answers. In many ways, he resembles a schoolkid who is taking the rap for something his mate has done.
These briefings can be hellishly awkward at times. You have a group of reporters asking the questions that need to be asked, while at the same time having massive sympathy for the poor man who has been charged with answering them.
There will be those that argue – and McGlynn would probably be amongst them – the football match in question should be more prominent, but Hearts, regrettably, are currently in a position where what’s happening off the pitch is of far more relevance to the club’s long-term future than what is happening on the pitch. McGlynn, thankfully, has remained as co-operative as possible throughout, even throwing in a bit of banter on occasions to ease the intensity of these, at times, gruelling sparring matches between press and manager. What’s not in doubt is that McGlynn is a genuinely good guy.
Indeed, on the one occasion when he has responded tetchily to a question – about why John Sutton wasn’t in the team – he apologised to his inquisitor the following week. In the main, McGlynn endeavours to be as helpful as he can when many others would choose the easy option and simply be unco-operative in such trying times. Yesterday’s gathering was typical of recent meetings with the Hearts manager, with tomorrow’s game against Dundee United forced to play second fiddle to the more pertinent matter of the club’s intention to contest the extension of a transfer embargo following alleged failure to pay players’ bonus and appearance money on time.
“It doesn’t really matter what I think but the board of directors have looked at it and gone for legal advice and want to take it a stage further,” McGlynn said of the transfer ban, summing up the nature of the matters he is routinely being asked to discuss. “It’s difficult to talk about it because we’re going through lawyers.”
There then ensued a period of talking about how the ban had come about. “This has not come from the players. The players are not concerned by this at all,” the manager claimed, in one fell swoop trying to take the heat off both his players and the club hierarchy.
When eventually prompted by the club’s communications manager to alter the line of questioning to football matters, the conversation turned to Dundee United’s ex-Hearts player Rudi Skacel, who returns to Tynecastle tomorrow.
“Rudi will always have a special place at Tynecastle because of all he did, all the fans he’s entertained, in his two spells at the club,” said McGlynn. “He is a legend in that way, he is a good lad and a gentleman, but for 90 minutes he’s a Dundee United player and will be one of another ten standing between us and three points.”
By the time McGlynn eventually steered the chat on to the more mundane matter of team news, it was mission accomplished for another week for the embattled Hearts manager.
That McGlynn doesn’t excuse himself from his arduous weekly grilling – predecessor Paulo Sergio regularly used to let Gary Locke do the honours instead – is testament to the character of the man charged with navigating Hearts through these increasingly stormy waters.
He certainly could never be accused of being a shirker.