Heart of Catalonia

Liga of their own: Hearts played Barcelona in 2007 but could they emulate the way the Spanish club is run? Picture: Steve Welsh/SNS
Liga of their own: Hearts played Barcelona in 2007 but could they emulate the way the Spanish club is run? Picture: Steve Welsh/SNS
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The Tynecastle club should look to Barcelona’s ownership model for inspiration, according to one interested party

ONE of the men interested in buying out Hearts’ majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov has cited Barcelona as a working role model for success and says he is being driven by altruistic motives and the desire to safeguard the future of the club.

Setting out his vision, the interested party, who does not want to be named before the proposals progress further down the road to a takeover, said that he wants the club to operate as a supporters’ trust.

“The biggest club in the world, Barcelona, that’s exactly the way they are run; there’s not one man, an oil-rich sheikh, a Roman Abramovich or a Vladimir Romanov, in full control and they manage OK.

“Basically Barcelona is run in much the same way as your local tennis club, where a committee is elected, the president or chairman is elected and that would be the same at Hearts if we can see this deal through. It would be one man, one vote; every fan would have a vested interest.

“I would have it enshrined in the constitution that Hearts could never again run up such debts and that would ensure that the club was never again in this position. By handling the debt, we ensure we are never in the position that we have to accept the money of one man and that we never again become the play thing of one individual. We ensure we are never again this vulnerable. This club is an institution too dear to too many people and we want to see if functioning in ten, 20, 50 years.”

The blueprint includes a proposal to ring-fence three “golden shares” which would hold ultimate veto powers, and the suggestion is that they be placed in trust with the Law Society of Scotland, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland and City of Edinburgh Council.

“That way no one person can determine the future of the club on a whim and that way nobody gets the opportunity to try to make big money by gambling with the club. The office bearers would all be elected and paid a wage for doing a job but no more than that.”

In a statement this week, it was claimed that while many had been vocal on the current situation at Hearts, with players’ wages late for the third successive month and an official complaint expected to be addressed by the SPL tomorrow, there had been little in the way of constructive advice.

Director Sergejus Fedotovas said: “No one really cares to suggest how to improve or help the situation, but would rather speak about how bad it is. Apart from opportunistic suggestions to remove Romanov, they provide no solutions as to how to get funding for the club in a deteriorating economic environment.”

It is believed that his words were primarily directed at another consortium which has been critical of Romanov in the media this week, claiming that the Russian-born banker has been thwarting their advances and refusing to allow them access to the club accounts.

“Discussions have already taken place with several interested parties,” according to Fedotovas. “In some cases there is a big difference between interest and substance and it is the board’s responsibility to ensure that the club is sold to the right people who can fund and manage it properly.

“My advice to people who are considering buying Hearts and do not hold significant financial reserves appropriate to fund and invest into the business – you need to discuss your ideas with professional financial and legal advisers in order to check if your offer is viable and seek their help to provide an offer on your behalf.

“We have had discussions with individuals and groups from Scotland and outside the UK.

“It would be great to sell to a Scottish-based investor or consortium but we remain open minded on the matter. There are also important criteria that will have to be met by any potential buyer. Firstly, buyers must make a realistic offer for the club. The present majority owner has outlined his understanding of the value.”

That valuation remains the biggest stumbling block, though. Our source says that they have already entered into dialogue with Romanov and his representatives but he has admitted that the current owner will have to lower his asking price and agree to absorb some of the £30 million debt.

“If he insists on the £50m, which is his valuation of the club, then a buy-out simply isn’t feasible,” the source said.

“Someone else might have a better plan and they may have the resources and the willingness to put millions and millions of pounds into the pocket of Mr Romanov and then into the club, but I would doubt it.

“In our opinion, the gap between the owner’s valuation and the real value is huge so, for us, it hinges on Mr Romanov’s willingness to take some of the debt off the shoulders of Hearts. He has the capacity to do that because the debt is to another part of his business empire.

“If he was willing to do that we would say, OK, keep Tynecastle and transfer it to your parent company and then just lease it back to the club. That way he gets to wash his hands of the day-to-day running costs but still has an income from the ground without having to have anything to do with Hearts. He says he wants out, this is one way to accomplish that and it would allow us to set up the fans’ trust and we could stay at Tynecastle for the foreseeable future.”

With Romanov digesting the proposals and the negotiations still at an early stage, the source says that he has not seen club accounts but has been given no indication that the owner would be obstructive if the discussions entered a formal stage.

“So far everything has been very business-like and civil. But no deal is imminent, however, I think our option would allow Mr Romanov to walk away and leave the club in safe hands. I really do thing the fans’ trust is the way forward if we want to protect the future of a club that is so dear to us.”

A solution is required soon. Fedotovas addressed an increasingly angry and frustrated first-team squad on Friday, the day after a number of them were paid their November salaries 29 days late, and on the day that the majority of first-team squad members instructed their union to lodge a formal complaint with the SPL after the December wage failed to hit their bank accounts.

There was a lot of emotion in the room as the director tried to explain the difficulties facing the club due to the global financial climate. He attempted to answer questions but failed to comply when asked to give guarantees that the current plight would be resolved and wages would be paid on time in future.

“OK, he came in and faced us,” said one player, who does not want to be named, “but so what? It doesn’t change anything. Although we got November’s wage, that has all gone on paying off the bills that were piling up. It doesn’t change the fact that the club are again late paying us this month’s wage. It doesn’t look good when he can’t tell us when we will get that and he can’t guarantee it’s not going to keep happening for the next few months. The boys have had enough. That’s why we listened to what he had to say but still went ahead with the complaint. I don’t know what the SPL can do, but someone has to do something.”