IF Hearts want to galvanise players and fans, plus sell more match and season tickets, then John Robertson could be their best option as manager. Peter Houston and Derek McInnes are also on the club’s shortlist of candidates to replace John McGlynn. Robertson, though, is steeped in Tynecastle history and remains the most iconic figure of modern times. His appointment would not fail to find favour.
Many feel Robertson was not given a fair chance during his previous spell managing Hearts, which came at the very inception of the Vladimir Romanov era. Appointed in November 2004, he was sacked in May 2005 despite reaching the semi-finals of both the League Cup and Scottish Cup. He also sampled the UEFA Cup group phase that season, securing a memorable 2-1 away win against the Swiss club Basle. He was dismissed, aged 40, because Romanov wanted a more experienced figurehead, and ultimately appointed George Burley.
Houston would bring the most experience and best track record of success out of the three mentioned. The 54-year-old can boast a 20-year coaching career with Falkirk, Hearts, Leicester City, Dundee United and the Scottish national team. He guided United to the Scottish Cup in 2010 and secured European football at the end of every season he was in charge at Tannadice.
He was twice caretaker manager of Hearts, in 2000 and 2004, during a nine-year spell at Tynecastle as youth coach and assistant manager. McInnes built a solid reputation in Scotland with St Johnstone before defecting to Bristol City in October 2011. He gained promotion to the Scottish Premier League with the Perth club in 2009 in what was his first managerial job. He kept them in the top flight on a tight budget and playing an attractive brand of football.
His 15-month tenure at Ashton Gate ended in January this year with City bottom of the English Championship. At 41, he is a young coach who may appeal to Hearts given he has already managed at a good level on both sides of the Border.
There are other, as yet unnamed, candidates for the position. Hearts were due to begin talks with prospective new managers yesterday, with the new man guaranteed a tumultuous start given the club’s next two matches are an Edinburgh derby and the Scottish Communities League Cup final.
Fans will be eager to see if there is to be another homecoming for Robertson, the club’s record goalscorer. Financial matters could be a factor in any appointment with Hearts keen to secure as much funding as possible to see them through until the summer. Robertson holds an ace card in that respect as a darling of supporters who would bring fans to Tynecastle.
Former Hearts captain Robbie Neilson has played under both Robertson and Houston and explained why both men have attributes which could help in the short term. “I remember when Robbo came in at Hearts, we worked a lot on the attacking side of our game,” he said. “At that time we had Mark Burchill and Lee Miller and they scored a lot of goals for us. Our play was very attack-orientated.
“The situation at the club at that time made it difficult for Robbo and he didn’t last long. They began to go through a period where managers were coming in and out quickly.
“I think you would get a good reaction if he came back. The way the club is, they will be looking to get somebody in who will give the place a lift. Robbo is probably top of the list of people who could do that right now. I can see why Hearts would be interested in bringing him in. They need some sort of figurehead at the moment, just to try and unite everybody. I’ve sensed the fans turning a wee bit recently so they need someone to bring people together. Robbo has been associated with Hearts for years and he is the man who could perform that role. Housty is a good manager. He works with young players and brought a lot of boys through at Dundee United, which is the way Hearts are going at the moment. He is looking to get back into work after leaving United. He won the Scottish Cup there so it would be appealing for Peter to go to Hearts.
“He is a good coach who motivates his team well. He knows the game well and has a lot of experience. He knows Hearts well, having been an assistant manager and a caretaker at times there.
“All three are good managers and I think any of them would do a good job. I know a lot of players who have worked under Derek McInnes and they speak really highly of him. He did a good job at St Johnstone and is another very good coach. If Derek is looking to get back into the game quickly, then I’m sure Hearts would be a job he would look at.”
Allan Preston, the former Hearts and Dundee United winger, is firmly in the Robertson camp. “There’s no bigger legend at Heart of Midlothian Football Club than John Robertson. The club means everything to him,” he said. “He came down to stay with me a few weeks ago and we chewed the fat for hours over everything to do with Hearts.
“The meaning the club has to him is incredible. He’s been hurting recently with the way the club is going. Everyone saw what he did for the club with the share issue. He put himself on a limb asking fans to pay money and the response was fantastic.
“For me, it’s purely a case of Sergejus Fedotovas or whoever is in charge just to say to John ‘can you help us again?’ He’s been the manager there before. He was the first appointment by Vladimir Romanov and I don’t think he was given a chance. He knows what the club is about, he loves the club and he would galvanise everybody – players and fans.”
Neilson cautioned that whoever becomes the new manager of Hearts should not view it as a long-term position. “It depends what the situation is in the background. There is the financial side of things, then you’d need to know what input the manager is going to have, then there’s team selection, recruiting players with your hands tied and whether others will be leaving.
“No matter who comes in, they aren’t going to know the full story or what control they’re going to get. Although Hearts is appealing for managers coming in, whoever gets it will have a difficult job because you don’t know what environment you’re going to be in.
“Guys who are out of work and desperate to get back into football again are going to take it because being Hearts manager is a high-profile job at a big club.
“They have a cup final coming up as well. It’s very appealing to anyone on a short-term basis. For someone with a long-term plan, is it the right place to be? I don’t think so.”