North of the Border

Romanov in change of heart?

January 18, 2012
By Neil White
(Archive)

This week's North of the Border looks at the potential returns of two SPL legends, Scott Allan's move to England and Rangers' continuing financial issues.

THE VLAD SHUFFLE

 Vladimir Romanov
EmpicsVladimir Romanov: Seeking a new manager

There is no second guessing Vladimir Romanov, the Hearts owner possesses a keener sense of showmanship and a stealthier change of direction than Muhammad Ali. This week, after the latest in a long line of remarkable results by a team under extreme pressure, he showed us quite a shuffle.

Romanov put the club up for sale in November, setting a £50 million asking price for Hearts, who have a debt of around £35 million to the bank controlled by the Russian-born Lithuanian financier.

Now, in the wake of a 5-2 victory over St Mirren, achieved for the most part without their captain, Marius Zaliukas, he has hinted at a change of mind. "If there will be positive changes then I will be inclined to stay and invest money," he said.

These 'positive changes' could refer to anything from the form of his team, which is electric at the moment despite the chaotic governance of the club, to what Romanov terms the 'mafia' of the SFA, the Old Firm and the 'monkeys' of the media, who make a closed shop of Scottish football.

Romanov has already put in place a plan to reduce the footballing costs from a horrendous loss-maker to a break-even proposition, during a period when players' wages were paid late on three occasions.

In a rare television interview - Hearts recently lifted a media black-out enforced early this season - their manager, Paulo Sergio, said: "We need to sell players because we need money."

It remains the case that Hearts may have a skinnier squad at the start of February, but their work in the last two months has been as impressive in its way as Celtic's 11-game winning streak. They finished the weekend third in the SPL and have won five and drawn one of their last six.

It is not only Romanov who has found a new perspective. Ryan Stevenson, the forward who went on strike over the delayed wage payments, has indicated a desire to play for Hearts again. Perhaps he doesn't want to miss out on the fun.

OPERATION GAME

Doing just that is Kevin Kyle, the Hearts striker who has not played for a full year and this week made the decision to have hip surgery that will result in recovery or retirement for the former Scotland international.

Kyle, who suffered an addiction to gambling earlier in his career, gave a typically frank assessment of his situation as he prepares for the two outcomes.

"Without question, this [diagnosis and surgery] is what I've been looking for," he said. "If I don't recover from this surgery, I'll know the situation, I'll know what's wrong with me and I'll know why I can't play football. I'll be able to take that and understand it.

"Hopefully, once all this is done, I've got that improvement needed to return to professional football and see out my career as I hope to see out my career. Not to finish at 30 and worry about the future."

CAPTAIN COMEBACK

Russell Anderson in Sunderland colours
GettyImagesRussell Anderson in Sunderland colours

Another player beset by injuries may be nearing a happy ending at the club closest to his heart. Russell Anderson left Aberdeen in the summer of 2007 but has only made 36 league starts since then.

He moved to Sunderland for £1 million but was frequently unavailable for the Premier League club, his most prolonged period of absence resulting from ruptured ankle ligaments sustained during his first start for the club. He was loaned to Plymouth and then Burnley, where he damaged his cruciate ligament, ending season 2008-09 for the centre-back.

A two-year contract he agreed with Derby County was terminated in December after a hamstring injury, the latest interruption to his career. So it is back to Pittodrie, where the 33-year-old has agreed terms and will resume the captaincy, once he has completed his rehabilitation.

Without his history of injuries it is possible that he would not have disappeared from view in the English Premier League. When operating on all cylinders, he is an excellent and intelligent defender. There is a big 'if' about his return to Aberdeen, but if it is resolved happily, and Anderson plays regularly before the end of the season, they have a player who will improve their team greatly and a hometown boy with big-time experience.

He may be a little way from it yet, but once his name appears in the line-up once more, expect Aberdeen's flat-lining season to find some life.

FINISHING SCHOOL

The Scottish Football Association this week began trials to find the first intake of players for the expansion of its performance schools programme. After a pilot project at two schools in Scotland, a total of seven centres will now take in up to 20 pupils for intensive coaching aimed at producing an annual crop of technically superior Scottish footballers.

It is part of a bold realignment of the education of footballers, one of the architects of which is Mark Wotte, the SFA performance director. "Twenty or thirty years ago, kids were playing in the street, now that isn't happening and we have to replace it," he explained.

Around Scotland, these centres will provide up to 10 hours per week of extra training by SFA coaches. The selection process for the inaugural class will be complete in March.