‘Hearts will always be here’ - Ryan Stevenson

A CLUB fighting tooth and nail for its very survival amidst alarming financial instability, a recent history of salary delays, budgetary cutbacks that have necessitated a reliance on youth players and a team languishing in 11th spot in the SPL – and, yet still, over 50 people contacted Hearts within 48 hours of their managerial position becoming vacant.

Whilst the prospect of lifting silverware in the forthcoming Scottish Communities League Cup against St Mirren will be an obvious attraction, neither the list of current troubles nor the reputation of controversial owner Vladimir Romanov as a difficult paymaster, as someone too ready to become involved in team matters and too quick to fire managers, appear to have put off those keen to become Hearts’ 12th boss in just eight years.

Why, is a question many will ask, and one that Ryan Stevenson appears well qualified to answer. The midfielder departed Tynecastle a little over a year ago, branding the club a “circus” after effectively going on strike over late wages. The 28-year-old voiced concerns that the stresses and strains of his salary payments were affecting wife Hannah and, in turn, their then unborn first child, and described the way the club was run as a “scandal”.

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However, after just eight months at Ipswich Town, Stevenson returned to Hearts and penned a three-year deal. Despite everything that had apparently pushed him away and the prospects of a repeat, there was enough to pull the former Chelsea trainee back.

He is in no way surprised that managers also feel that draw and believes that John McGlynn’s predecessor Paulo Sergio went on to manage FC Cluj in the Champions League this season after departing Gorgie can only help. “I would imagine that, if you are an up-and-coming manager or even a more experienced guy looking for a job, this would be attractive because of the size of the club,” he said. “Managers out there will know the size of the club, and they’ll look at Paulo, knowing that if you do well there is a chance to enhance your reputation – he was managing in the Champions League this year.

“So, the potential is massive and, if you come here and do well, I’m sure you can move on to bigger and better things.

“Probably outside of Celtic in the SPL, and I’m biased here, we’re the biggest club. So, for anyone looking to achieve something in the game, it’s a great club to come to. As much as (the off-field issues) are a massive factor in day-to-day life, you’ve got to look past that side of it and concentrate on the football. That’s what I did when I came back. The fans are incredible, they were great on Saturday, and that’s a big part of it.”

Stark warnings were issued by Hearts that November’s match with St Mirren could prove to be their last because of a winding-up order pursued by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs over unpaid tax. Although that outcome was averted by the loyal fundraising efforts of supporters, worries persist and discussions over a buy-out of Romanov’s majority shareholding have so far failed to yield too much hope of a brighter future.

However, Stevenson has no doubt that whoever replaces McGlynn will be taking over at a club that will survive.

“I think you can see that Hearts will always be here,” he added. “That has been demonstrated by the way people have reacted to the situation we were in, with the club nearly going to the wall. That will never happen, the fans will make sure that doesn’t happen. There will always be someone willing to come in and save the club, because it’s been about for so long, has such a proud history and is a club of real size.”

And, with St Johnstone to face at home this evening, it is that stature that makes their current position of second-bottom of the Premier League simply not good enough, according to Stevenson. “This season is disappointing – nothing short of shocking for the size of club we’re at,” he commented. “Right now, it’s nowhere near good enough. We know that.

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“It’s been difficult because of everything that has happened. And, while I know the cup final will be an amazing day, we’re still sitting 11th in the league. Regardless of what has happened off the pitch, this season hasn’t been good enough, not with the players we’ve still got. We should be higher up the table.”

For the club’s board, and for a section of the support, the blame for that lowly position lay with McGlynn, no matter the circumstances he was forced to deal with on his return to the club from Raith Rovers. However, for Stevenson, McGlynn did not deserve to carry the can.

“I’ve got nothing but good words for John McGlynn, a man who lived and breathed this club. To see how upset he was on Thursday was hard for the players to take. Ultimately, the manager can only do so much.”