Portuguese Paulo Sérgio emerges as front-runner for Hearts job

PAULO Sérgio last night emerged as the favourite for the Hearts manager's job amid strong speculation of a Portuguese manager being announced today.

Paulo Srgio Bento Brito - to give him his full name - has been out of work since February after Rangers helped bring an end to his tenure at Sporting Lisbon by dumping them out of the Europa League.

The exit to Rangers came hot on the heels of a disastrous run of form, which had seen the Libson giants slip 26 points behind runaway league leaders and great rivals Porto. A 2-0 defeat at home to Benfica was the final straw after Sporting had lost 2-0 on aggregate to Rangers in the round of 16, and Sergio was axed.

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The 43-year-old had a 17-year playing career as a striker, but failed to settle at a number of clubs, although he enjoyed decent spells of form at Belenenses and Olhanense at the beginning and end of his career respectively. He also had a stint at French club Grenoble in the 1998-99 season.

It was at Olhanense that Sergio began his coaching career, before moving to another of his ex-clubs, Santa Clara. After two years he continued moving up the ladder in his domestic league, joining Beira-Mar, then Paos Ferreira, Vitria Guimares, before he was offered the prestigious job with Sporting in April 2010. Sporting made a bright start to last season's Europa League campaign, topping a group that included Lille, Levski Sofia and Belgian side Gent, but with pressure mounting as they toiled in their league fixtures, Rangers dealt a mortal blow to Sergio's hopes of reviving the club's fortunes before his last stand against Benfica.

Another Portuguese name that was quickly linked with Hearts was Jos Couceiro, who ironically followed Sergio into the hot seat at Sporting as caretaker coach. He seemingly ticked every box for the Hearts job, except for his current employment status, which appears to be unavailable after he signed a two-year contract with Lokomotiv Moscow last month. Couceiro was previously in charge of Kaunas, working under Romanov with a degree of success, and led them to their Champions League qualifying win over Rangers, not long after he had taken the reins in 2008. He was appointed coach of the Lithuanian national team for the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, and although they ultimately failed in their quest, he did lead the side to wins over Romania and Austria. After a brief spell in charge of Sporting, Couceiro landed the Lokomotiv role.