As Daniel Stendel bids to avoid recording the worst start to a tenure of any manager in Hearts’ 145-year history on Sunday, it is already difficult to avoid the sense his appointment is shaping up as a monumental blunder by the beleaguered Gorgie club.
The wretched Boxing Day performance in losing 2-0 at home to Hibs saw the statisticians rifling through the archives in search of any other Hearts boss who had suffered defeat in each of his first four league games at the helm.
Frank Moss, we are all now aware, was the only one – way back in 1937. At the time, Moss was just as much of a left-field appointment as Stendel in many ways.
A three-time English title winner as a fine goalkeeper with Arsenal, Moss was only 27 when he took the Hearts job after being forced by injury to end his playing career.
But Moss recovered well from his unpromising start at Tynecastle, coming close to winning the title in 1937-38 when runners-up Hearts finished just three points behind champions Celtic at the top of the table. He would eventually leave the club as a well-regarded figure in the summer of 1940, his 58 per cent win ratio in the job still second only to George Burley in the all-time list of permanent Hearts managers.
With the best will in the world, it is hard to imagine that Stendel’s own inauspicious beginnings will be followed by a similar level of success.
Any notion Hearts owner Ann Budge had of seeing an immediate new-manager-bounce under the 45-year-old German has been well and truly shattered by the run of reversals against St Johnstone, Celtic, Hamilton Accies and then Hibs.
Now three points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership, there is so far scant – if any – evidence to suggest Stendel can bring desperately needed energy and direction to a squad which has appeared devoid of confidence or cohesion for so long.
The club clearly face a critical January if the very real threat of relegation is to be staved off, although the winter transfer window is a difficult market which rarely offers the kind of recruitment opportunities which can quickly transform a team’s fortunes.
In Hearts’ case, there is the additional question over who will be leading the process as Stendel has his first chance to reshape the squad. The bizarre scenario of his immediate predecessors Craig Levein and Austin MacPhee currently sharing sporting director duties is one which continues to raise serious doubts about Budge’s current stewardship of the club.
With a wage bill of around £7.5 million, the first team squad is already bloated. Offloading some players who remain on lengthy and well-remunerated contracts handed out on Levein’s watch will be just as much of a challenge as finding the new blood Stendel needs to give himself any chance of turning the season around.
He also needs the support of his own backroom staff as quickly as possible. The complications which have so far prevented his former Barnsley assistants Chris Stern and Dale Tonge from joining him in Edinburgh have left Stendel looking isolated in the technical area and added to the impression of an increasingly haphazard coaching structure at the club.
In the immediate term, Hearts fans will be short of both hope and expectation at Tynecastle on Sunday when Aberdeen are the visitors in the final round of Premiership fixtures before the winter break. The Gorgie faithful have seen their team win just two of their last 27 league games and no-one will be surprised if that unwanted record of losing his first five in charge belongs to Stendel this weekend.