Anthony Brown: They deserve much more than this . .
It says much about the whole sorry situation currently engulfing this proud Edinburgh institution that the most astounding aspect of events over the past 24 hours is that they haven't necessarily come as a great surprise. The timing of this latest managerial reshuffle was certainly a shock, coming only two league games into a new season and at a time when, despite the Dundee United reversal on Sunday, optimism was rife that Hearts could at least emulate last season's third-place finish.
On the whole, Jim Jefferies and his trusty cohorts Billy Brown and Gary Locke had helped restore stability, normality and respect to the club after picking up the baton from Csaba Laszlo some 18 months ago. Perhaps most importantly their presence went a long way to restoring the bond between Hearts and their previously disillusioned fans.
However, despite the widely-held notion that this triumvirate looked the perfect fit for Hearts at this particular period in time, there's always been the nagging feeling that Jefferies' job has never been overly secure. This was perhaps best illustrated when, just a couple of weeks ago, the legendary Hearts manager was priced up as the second favourite behind Hibs' Colin Calderwood to be the first SPL manager to leave his job this season. The bookies rarely get it wrong.
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There will be those who lazily argue that Jefferies and Co have no right to complain as they knew what they were getting involved in when they took the job. After all, before them George Burley and Laszlo had both been cast aside in unceremonious circumstances despite performing minor miracles amid the background mayhem.
Jefferies, Brown and Locke came back to revive a club close to their heart after Romanov's grip had started to strangle the life out of Laszlo following an impressive debut season at the helm from the Hungarian. They felt it was their calling and the job they did in re-establishing Hearts as Scotland's third force while whittling down the wage bill suggests Romanov was right to bring them in. Regardless of the late-season slump, Hearts were surely in a better place yesterday morning than in January 2010. So why upset the apple cart now?
Granted, they had been without a win since mid-March, a wretched run of form to say the least, but if that was the issue why weren't the management team removed in the close-season before they were allowed to bring in new signings? There's evidence of haphazard, whimsical activity at work from Hearts here, with total disregard being shown to the players and fans ahead of a huge European assignment on Thursday night.
In fact, scratch that. In light of yesterday's events, the clash with Paksi somehow doesn't seem quite so important. I spent the early part of yesterday afternoon interviewing ex-Hearts players about their memories of famous European nights, but most of that will prove a waste of time as we instead have to focus our attention on a callous act against men who cared deeply for Hearts.
Jefferies, Brown and Locke will be first to admit that results at the tail end of last season weren't good enough, but why should they be made the scapegoats when whoever chose to deliberately weaken the team by leaving out Marian Kello and Marius Zaliukas in key games was arguably just as responsible as any of the management team for unsatisfactory results.
Does the magnificent display at Ibrox on the opening day of the season count for nothing? Hearts wonder why they get a bad press. Is it any wonder when they treat good people with such disdain? Jefferies might not be the best manager in the world but he and his colleagues deserve respect for everything they've given Hearts down the years. Instead they awoke this morning knowing their long-standing and relatively successful three-man team has been ripped apart to make way for a Portuguese who has no experience of Scottish footballl or understanding of Hearts' traditions.
And that seems to be the fundamental problem of Romanov's leadership - he cares little for those who are part of the club's fabric. Achievement in maroon counts for little if your face doesn't fit. So many Hearts idols have grown alienated by the way things are done at Tynecastle these days. When people who have served Hearts well such as John Robertson, George Burley, Julien Brellier, Steven Pressley, Laszlo and Gary Mackay are joined by the likes of Jefferies, Brown and Locke in being treated with complete disrespect, alarm bells have to start ringing.
Paulo Sergio may indeed prove to be a good manager, but that is beside the point. There will be some fans happy to win at all costs, no matter which club icons are ruthlessly cast aside along the way, but the majority must surely realise that, without respect and dignity, Heart of Midlothian Football Club is no longer what it used to be.
Ironically, on the Hearts website today, there was a link from the aftermath of Sunday's game against Dundee United that was still prominent enough to catch the eye.
It read: "JJ: We deserved more." That sentiment could easily be used to describe the treatment of three decent men who have Hearts in their hearts.