Vladimir Romanov to reveal manager No 10 after Jim Jefferies 'removed'
Paulo Sergio, the 43-year-old former Sporting Lisbon coach, last night emerged as the clear favourite to take charge of the first team under a new set-up which may yet retain Jefferies.
He has been offered a director of football position by Romanov and was last night weighing up his decision at home. Jefferies left Tynecastle earlier without comment after being informed of Romanov's decision which came 24 hours after the controversial Russian businessman watched Hearts lose 1-0 at home to Dundee United during one of his increasingly rare visits to Scotland.
"Jim Jefferies has been removed as manager," said a club spokesman, "and has been offered a director of football role which he is currently considering."
Billy Brown, Jefferies' long standing assistant manager and confidant, has been dismissed but first team coach Gary Locke has been offered the chance to stay on as part of the new backroom team.
It is believed the meeting between Romanov and Jefferies was cordial, despite the 60-year-old former club captain's obvious dismay at the end of his second spell as manager. Jefferies' lifelong affection of Hearts may yet tempt him to accept the director of football post.
Speculation that Romanov already had a Portuguese coach lined up to replace Jefferies as manager spread quickly last night. Both Jose Couceiro, the former Kaunas and Lithuania manager who recently took charge of Lokomotiv Moscow, and former QPR, Leicester City and Swansea City manager Paolo Sousa, newly installed at Hungarian champions Videoton, were both widely touted before Sergio emerged as the most likely candidate.
Out of work since being sacked as Sporting Lisbon coach in February, following their Europa League last 32 defeat against Rangers, Sergio has never previously managed outside of Portugal where his record at Olhanense, Santa Clara, Beira-Mar, Pacos Ferreira, Vitoria Guimaraes and then Sporting was largely unremarkable.
Since taking control of Hearts in February 2005, Romanov has hired and fired a succession of coaches in a wide variety of circumstances. John Robertson, George Burley, Graham Rix, Valdas Ivanauskas, Eduard Malofeev, Anatoly Korobochka, Stephen Frail, Csaba Laszlo and now Jefferies have all failed to match the demands or expectations of Hearts owner.
Jefferies, who led Hearts to Scottish Cup success in 1998 during his first spell in charge, returned to Hearts at the end of January last year, replacing Laszlo who was sacked after 18 months at the helm.The appointment was made a matter of hours after Laszlo's dismissal. Jefferies had resigned as Kilmarnock manager less than three weeks earlier and was linked with vacancies at both Dundee United and Motherwell before his dramatic return to Tynecastle.
He secured a top-six finish at the end of the 2009-10 season and quickly cemented his popularity among the Hearts support by guiding the team to two derby victories over Hibs before the campaign's conclusion.
Last season saw Hearts present themselves as challengers to Rangers and Celtic at the top of the SPL for several months. An impressive 11-match unbeaten run from November to January which saw them take 31 points from a possible 33, including wins over both of the Old Firm clubs, prompted many observers to promote Hearts as genuine title candidates.
But although Jefferies extended his impressive managerial record in the Edinburgh derbies, with two more wins and a draw in last season's three meetings with Hibs, his team's league form faltered in the closing three months of the season.
Hearts won just once in their final 12 SPL games, drawing six and losing the other five. They secured their third place finish regardless, but were 30 points adrift of champions Rangers in the final analysis.
The Hearts players were convened for a meeting at the club yesterday to be informed of the decision to remove Jefferies as manager but appeared nonplussed when they left.
"We don't know anything about it," said midfielder Ryan Stevenson. "We have to wait until Tuesday. I don't want to say anything. I think it's all getting made ... I think it will come out on Tuesday."
Asked how damaging the departure of Jefferies and Brown would be, he replied: "It would obviously be a blow but we will need to just wait and see what happens. We will just get on with it, that's what we are here for."
Earlier, midfielder Ian Black had spoken of his excitement ahead of Thursday's vital Europa League qualifying clash against Paksi, with the tie finely balanced after last week's first-leg 1-1 draw in Hungary.
Fully expecting Jefferies to be in command, Black told Hearts TV: "It has been a good start to the season but yesterday (against Dundee United] was a kick in the teeth. But the gaffer will rally us round and get us ready for Thursday. We've got to pick ourselves up and get a win in front of the home fans. We will go in with the right attitude and I'm more than confident we can get the win."