THE Archangelos training complex in Nicosia is a hive of activity right now. APOEL, its residents and the reigning Cypriot champions, have a Champions League qualifier next month.
They recently appointed a new manager, Paulo Sergio, who is busy reinforcing the squad with signings like Cillian Sheridan and the Brazilian Joao Guilherme.
Despite the frantic preparations, Sergio makes time to discuss one of his former clubs every day. He sits in the manager’s office at Archangelos with assistant Sergio Cruz ruminating on Hearts’ descent into administration. Both men masterminded the historic Scottish Cup success against Hibs last year and have been affected by the financial collapse at Tynecastle. The third member of their coaching team is much closer to the crisis. Alberto Cabral liked Edinburgh so much he stayed there.
Sergio is eager to contribute to aid Hearts’ fight for survival and promised to donate cash as well as his time for promotional activities. He donated his maroon cardigan for auction through the fans’ website Jambos Kickback last year as the club launched a share issue to raise funds. He has pledged to engage with those on the forum to do his bit again this time.
The 45-year-old refused a reduced salary offer and left Hearts shortly after last year’s cup success, coaching the Romanian club Cluj before landing the coveted job with APOEL. He still considers himself very much a Jambo, referring to Hearts as “we” during this interview. The prospect of facing some of Europe’s elite with his new club lies in wait, yet his thoughts are with those in Gorgie and the chaos left behind by the Vladimir Romanov regime.
“I’m a fan too, that’s why I have decided to help,” Sergio told the Evening News.
“I really love this club, it means a lot to me and my assistants. That’s the simple answer. We are fans too. Alberto is not working with me now because he loved Edinburgh and Scotland so much he decided to stay and live there. He is living in Edinburgh right now. Sergio is still working with me and we speak about Hearts every day. We are in contact with Gary (Locke) and we are in contact with other friends at Hearts. We are living through these problems together. We will try to help in any way we can but I don’t do this to get publicity. We will do whatever we can, even if it is only one or two more people doing a little bit. I gave my maroon cardigan last year so now I will try to help in different ways. We are involved in some promotions, we will try to send some money too and we are doing a video that somebody asked me to do.
“It’s a sad time for everybody but I also believe it can be the beginning of a very good future for the club. If we can survive now, maybe we can be stronger and stronger in the future. I kept saying that, if the club kept doing things as they were for the last few years, it is no good for anybody. This is a very hard moment now, but maybe this can be the switch for a brilliant future that these fantastic supporters deserve.
“In my opinion, what Mr Romanov was doing in the last few years was no good for the club. Everybody is feeling it hard at the present moment but I am positive. I really believe everybody will find a solution together to save Hearts and I think they can build a better future together. I think administration had to happen. Nobody wants this but, by continuing what they were doing for the last few years, one day the board were going to kill the club. It’s better to happen now.”
Financial problems were evident throughout Sergio’s ten months as Hearts manager. Players’ wages were paid late as Romanov stopped filtering funding through from the club’s Lithuanian parent company, Ukio Bankas Investment Group. With combined debts of £25 million and no income over the summer, administration became the club’s only option.
“There is no money now because of the debt and because of the stupid way that the club was being run for the last few years,” continued the Portuguese.
“With the money Hearts can generate every single year, they can have a good competitive team and build a brilliant future. Because of the debt and because of what happened over the last few seasons, they are now living in these very hard moments. Hearts bring in a lot of money each year but you can’t be paying people what Hearts were paying four and five years ago. That killed the economy of the club. Now the club is paying for those mistakes. They can still have a good team and pay good wages but not as much as they were paying five years ago. That is how they must move forward.”
The ultimate price of Romanov’s largesse was paid by 14 Hearts staff who were made redundant last week.
That news hit hard at Archangelos. “Unfortunately, it is always like that in this situation. The big ones make the mistakes and the smaller ones are the first to pay for those mistakes. I’m very sad about that because a lot of good people at Tynecastle have lost their jobs.
“I experienced a difficult situation at Hearts during the season I was there.
“At the end of the season, we paid ourselves because the money we got from winning the Scottish Cup paid our wages. Last season, that wasn’t possible so the problem became bigger. I want to tell the Hearts fans to believe and help the club in whatever way they can. Now is the moment when everybody should get involved.”