Calum Elliot on Tynecastle's title situation, coronavirus crisis and differences in coaching from Hearts and abroad
Just like their counterparts at Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers, no-one at Tynecastle FC will be anything other than chuffed if they, like the SPFL clubs, are ultimately awarded the league title they have had their eyes on all season.
Following a board meeting on Thursday night, the East of Scotland League clubs have been given until noon on Friday, 24 April to vote on a proposal to end the 2019/20 season, settling places on the points per game ruling. That would see Tynecastle crowned Division One - Conference B champions and elevate them into the Premier League next term.
While that would be a cause for jubilation and allow manager Calum Elliot to fulfill his season’s ambition, he insists he would still prefer the relative-jeopardy of seeing out the fixtures.
Finish the job
“It is frustrating,” said the young manager. “The boys have been excellent this season and all you want is for them to be able to finish the job that they started.
“I want them to have the experience, at the end of the season, when all the work that they have done has sealed the league and the boys come back into the changing room after getting the points they need and they have that moment of celebration, where everything they have done throughout the season, the emotion and the togetherness comes out in that one memorable moment. That’s the celebrations you want.
“Football is about passion and being part of a team so it’s not the same, isolated at home and getting a call or a text message to tell you it’s done.”
He feels that scenario is unfair to his players. He also believes it is unfair on the teams still attempting to chase them down.
Sitting 20 points clear at the top of the table, (albeit Inverkeithing Hillfield Swifts have three games in hand), the Meggetland club have a fairly unassailable lead and are the undoubted favourites for the title. “But there are no guarantees that would have happened but the boys had given themselves one helluva chance to make that happen.”
Now, though, he, like everyone else, will await the outcome of next week’s vote.
“What they will do, I have no idea. There is so much uncertainty even in terms of planning for next season.
“With the league suspended is difficult for the boys to keep motivated. Players train to compete but if they don’t know when they will next compete then it is difficult for them. But, football will resume and when it does, if it’s possible, we want to finish the season.
“I don’t think it is right for any team to be awarded anything because anything could have happened in the remaining fixtures. Teams get injuries, key players pick up suspensions, teams lose form; football is competitive and you don’t want to go down the road of interfering in that.
“I would rather see out the season, even if that means a smaller number of fixtures next season, or fewer cups, then so be it. That is the fairest way to do it. I just don’t know if that can work.
“I just know it isn’t fair on us to void it and it wouldn’t be fair to relegate teams who haven’t had the opportunity to play the remaining games. There is so much at stake.”
The current proposal would negate relegation fears, with new members helping to balance out the various divisions.
It may not be the way Elliot wishes to tie up the title but doing so would be a reward for hard work. The manager, 33, who was forced into premature retirement five years ago by knee injuries, talks a good game and has clearly found a role he revels in.
More in control
“Honestly I probably enjoy it more,” he says when asked to compare management to playing. “I feel more in control and enjoy interacting with the players and sharing my experiences. Although this is not the same kind of level, no disrespect, it is about being able to relate to players and trying to make sure they feel happy and comfortable and that they can carry out what you are asking them to do. At this moment in time i am missing it.”
His time out of the game, injured and rehabbing, which accounted for a decent chunk of his career, has helped prepare him for this stage of his football development.
“I had to stop playing when I was 28 because of injuries and by that stage I had already missed about four years of playing. In that time you have to watch a lot of training sessions and spend a lot of time by yourself recovering or doing rehab. That is not easy but it gives you time to figure out what you want to do after.
“I have a passion for football and understand what different types of players need to become better footballers and what a team needs to be successful.
Difference in coaching
“When I went to Lithuania,” where he spent a year with Žalgiris Vilnius, winning the Lithuanian Cup, “there was a Polish coach who was the best manager I have had in terms of preparing a team and planning training sessions that were game related. Before that, for maybe three or four years, I don’t think I was actually coached, in terms of someone working with me to try to improve me as a player.
“But, football has changed. I think the approach is different now but that coach was excellent in the way he prepared the team and the individual sessions he would do. He was ahead of the game compared to previous coaches.”