If Lord of the Flies was the fictional representation of how leaving a group of lads to their own devices can lead to division and instability, Hearts’ bickering at Ibrox on Sunday was the footballing version of that
In William Golding’s novel, isolation and the absence of a civilising and unifying presence, saw the primal pull towards self-preservation prove destructive.
Hearts’ exasperated, regressive behaviour in Glasgow, as much as their sloppy, inept footballing display, spoke to the urgent need for a definitive managerial appointment.
Daniel Stendel is expected to be the man charged with coming in and trying to fuse the frustrated and feuding ranks, who have been simply trying to survive for what feels like an eternity, in a temporary situation, cut off from the information they desire, or the routine, rules and managing they require.
If Sunday was an accurate depiction, it has precipitated a breakdown in morale and in team spirit and requires urgent action before the damage moves beyond the point of repair.
The much-publicised verbal rammies and the far-from-friendly gesticulating indulged in by Steven Naismith and Uche Ikpeazu were not the only niggles on a day when unity went out the window. Experienced pros had a go at eachother and then turned on youngsters and while some of the heated conversations were simply the sharing of some words of wisdom, others indulged in the more primitive finger-pointing and some freely apportioned blame. It wasn’t pretty and is something that should worry the club bosses.
Interim boss Austin MacPhee, pictured, has admitted that he doesn’t have the long-term credibility to rule with an iron fist, and established relationships will have been tested by his altered role and the deluge of negativity that comes from a run of results which, when compared to previous campaigns, is proven relegation form.
Stendel, though, is a guy who has gained notoriety for his strength in melding a squad and fostering a togetherness within his teams. They need those skills and they need them now before frustration and the breakdown in personal relationships completely derails Hearts’ season.
The German, who was a warm favourite with players and fans at Barnsley, has spoken previously of his own philosophy and the part a unified squad plays in that.
“It doesn’t matter what team we are playing, we play our style, we play forward, active and we want to win the game,” he told The Guardian. “I like emotions and I like a lot of team spirit.”
There are plenty of emotions at Hearts, but he will have to act quickly to harness them in a way that helps rather than hinders.
At Oakwell, he relied on old favourites like go-karting, in-house table tennis tournaments and ninja obstacle courses to help with the team bonding. Given Hearts’ current predicament, more of the same will be needed.
But the encouraging thing for the Tynecastle club is that he has a successful track record of turning these kind of bleak, negative situations around – even with teams that looked as rudderless as Hearts do now.
In charge of Hannover 96’s youth players in his first coaching role, he was placed in temporary charge of the first team with six games left of the 2015-16 Bundesliga season and, while he couldn’t stave off relegation, the notable thing was the way he and his team bounced back, winning promotion the following year.
It was a similar story at Barnsley, where he inherited a squad that had been relegated into League One and instilled them with the spirit and intensity needed to lift themselves back up into the Championship.
At the same time as he was rebuilding the morale and unity in the dressing room and plotting a gameplan that was based on players buying into that team ethic, he was also instrumental in extracting the best from young players and getting disillusioned fans back on side.
As for the Barnsley fanbase that had been up in arms before he arrived, when Stendel left the club a couple of months ago he was invited out for drinks with the supporters, unpoisoned by the fact he had presided over a 10-game run of games without a win immediately prior to his departure.
That kind of positive and inspiring character is what is needed by Hearts just now. With a fractious squad and a disenchanted fan base, they need some glue to stick it all back together. And, on recent evidence, they need it soon.