AS IF there wasn’t enough incentive already, Jamie MacDonald says the Hearts players now have another reason for wanting to win the League Cup – John McGlynn.
The club’s longest serving player, he is no stranger to managers coming and going, and he had considered himself fairly immune to the upheaval, having seen off 15 managers in his time with the club, but he admits this exit hit him harder than most.
“When I first joined at 16, it was Craig Levein in charge and I got a couple of years out of him and then it started getting a bit mad,” says the 26-year-old, who is one of the few experienced players left in the team after a year of cost-cutting and squad reshaping.
“I am immune to it to a certain extent. Don’t get me wrong, it’s difficult every time and especially with John. He was my youth coach here and I was very, very close to John. He is a great guy and it’s disappointing that it’s happened but that is football. It’s a results-driven business and as players, this season, we’ve not really been good enough. Second bottom of the league. Yeah, it’s great that we are in a cup final again but the bread and butter is the league and the form hasn’t really been good enough from us.”
Accepting the team’s role in McGlynn’s enforced departure has been tough for the Hearts goalkeeper, but he says players can’t dwell on that when there are points to be gathered and a trophy still up for grabs.
“When John came in [to tell us he was leaving], straight away there was that guilty feeling because we know that, at the end of the day, he put us on the park and he could only give us so much information. The results were up to us. We had to go out and do it and really we’ve not done that enough so there is guilt there, but so long as we turn that around and use it in a positive way now, make the most of the five games we have got left before the split and the League Cup final, which we have to look forward to.”
McGlynn has been denied his place in the Hampden technical area by last week’s events, with either Gary Locke and Darren Murray or a new manager gifted the role of leading the team out against St Mirren on 17 March, but MacDonald says the former gaffer will now be a source of inspiration.
“We want to win the cup anyway but especially now. I know it’s a cliché but we want to win it for him, because he deserves it.
“It would be very difficult for him, I think [to come to the game]. I don’t know what his decision will be on that. He still has a couple of weeks to decide if he will come along but winning it is something we want to do for him. Definitely, because it is something he has been part of. He helped get us there and it’s not just us, it was a collective thing, John included. It would be nice to see him. It is unfortunate, the timing of what has happened. It would have been nice to even get the cup final first but that’s not how it works in football. The nature of the beast. We just haven’t been good enough recently.”
The priorities for now are ensuring the youngsters in the squad are not adversely affected by the managerial situation and getting the league form back on track. MacDonald cites Ross County as an example of what can be achieved if they can do that.
“Results recently have put a bit of a damper on things but up until about four weeks ago we were six points off jumping into second place, when we went away to Ross County. Since then they’ve won four and we’ve lost four and the contrast is there. If we had won then, potentially, we could be sitting in second. But that’s football, they’ve gone one way and we’ve gone the other. It’s just unfortunate that it has cost the manager his job.”
Along with changes to the squad, deferred wages, the threat of winding up orders and the uncertainty over contracts and the ownership of the club have all cast a shadow over Hearts. “It can be difficult. It definitely can be,” says MacDonald, who has another year on his contract. “But you just need to get on with it. It’s your job and you just have to try to be as professional as you can.”
Financially, the Scottish Cup holders are limping towards the close season but they insist that the new term should see them operating self-sufficiently. But there remains uncertainty over who will own the club by then. According to reports, the problems with Ukio Bankas in Lithuania have led to the accounts of Hearts majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov being frozen, and him pondering a return to a former career as either a taxi driver or an electrician to pay his bills.
It all preys on the minds of the staff, including the players, says MacDonald.
“Nobody really knows what is going on with the hierarchy just now. There are all these rumours but nobody knows for sure what substance there is to any of it. But, if we start from the point that he doesn’t want the club any more then automatically it’s a good thing if he sells. If somebody doesn’t want something, isn’t giving it their full attention, then why keep it? It would obviously be better to have someone in who wants the club to prosper.”
Besides, MacDonald likes the idea of jumping in Romanov’s taxi. “He would make a good taxi driver because he must have some stories to tell. Taxi drivers like a bit of a gab and I would like to hear some of his stories, to be honest. For once it wouldn’t be ‘guess who I had in the back of my cab’ it would be ‘guess who was in the front of my taxi’.”
As the guy who has seen more than a football team of managers come and go knows, life is most definitely stranger than fiction at times.
Craig Levein: signed MacDonald in 2003
Peter Houston: caretaker for one game
John Robertson: first manager to be sacked by Romanov
Steven Pressley & John McGlynn: joint caretakers for two games
George Burley: sacked with Hearts top of SPL
McGlynn: caretaker again, for four games
Graham Rix: sacked before cup semi v Hibs
Valdas Ivanauskas: won 2006 Scottish Cup but left within a year
Eduard Malofeev: caretaker for six games
Anatoly Korobochka: Ukrainian suffered only six defeats in 33 games
Stephen Frail: six months in charge
Csaba Laszlo: finished third in 2008-09. Sacked
Jim Jefferies: finished third in 2010-11. Sacked
Paulo Sergio: won 2012 Scottish Cup then quit
McGlynn, pictured: shown the door last week
Gary Locke: placed in caretaker charge with Darren Murray assisting