Paulo Sergio could make or break Hearts’ bid for new boss

JOSE Couceiro remains Hearts’ preferred option as they seek to replace their Scottish Cup-winning manager Paulo Sergio but the deal could hit a snag as they will have to rely on a favourable recommendation from their former gaffer if negotiations are to be completed successfully.

The Portuguese managers are good friends, with Couceiro serving as sporting director at Sporting Lisbon when Sergio was in charge of the team, and despite the fact the vacancy has attracted several quality enquiries, Sergio is unlikely to hold back when outlining the problems likely to face Couceiro if he were to follow him at Tynecastle.

Sergio guided his team to a historic 5-1 Scottish Cup final triumph over city rivals Hibs but he had been worn down by the number of disruptive off-field issues, as well as the difficulties with losing first-team players in the January transfer window and seeing his first-choice keeper frozen out on the orders of the owner. He knows as well as anyone how crippling a blow the ongoing exodus of experienced performers such as Ian Black, Rudi Skacel and Craig Beattie would be to a squad which has become more and more reliant on academy graduates.

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Speaking in the final weeks of the season he said: “Maybe [people forget what the squad has been through]. There are lots of things that you don’t even know and I’m not even going to speak about it.”

He is unlikely to be so reticent with his close friend Couceiro. According to one SPL coach, Sergio ridiculed the notion that the Hearts job is “really, really difficult”, describing it instead as “impossible”, and claiming that the expectations of the board did not tally with behind-the-scenes tribulations and the cuts in the player budget. He has also been unimpressed by the proposed basic salary, one quarter of the money he picked up last term. The rest of the wage would be incentive-based but, with targets set as high as a third-place finish and another run to the final stages of the cup competitions, he does not consider them realistic.

Hearts director Sergejus Fedotovas has said there is a shortlist and insists a decision will be made in time for pre-season. But getting their preferred option may not be easy.