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Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Hibs and Hearts pay up

Neil White

This week, Colin Calderwood's P45 proves costly for Hibs, Vladimir Romanov's unpredictable antics continued at Hearts and Scotland's brave new faces head to Cyprus.

A firing offence

Five months is a long time in football, like they say. Witness the market value of Colin Calderwood. In June Hibernian turned down an offer of 300,000 for the services of their manager, from Birmingham City, who wanted Calderwood to assist Chris Hughton. Despite appearing to encourage the move and his lack of success in his first half-season in Edinburgh, Calderwood was apparently valued at a higher price by his employers. Perhaps, with Nottingham Forest also courting their man, Hibs anticipated a bidding war. Instead, both clubs walked on, like customers at a car boot sale intrigued by that signed vinyl copy of 'The Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby' but frankly disgusted at the vendor's unwillingness to be haggled down to 1 for it. This week, Hibs ended up paying Calderwood to go 23 months before the end of his contract and 24 hours before their annual general meeting. The manager was sacked after a home defeat by Dunfermline. It extended a sequence of nine months in which Hibs have won a single SPL game at Easter Road. Afterwards, supporters called for the removal of the board as well as the manager. Rod Petrie, the chairman, has secured a sound financial base for Hibs, but that has been assisted by the sale of a golden generation of academy graduates at the top of the market. There are no such prospects now, only a stale-looking first team squad a disillusioned fan base. Hibs are also now sacking managers on an annual basis and their next move is crucial to reverse a damaging momentum. Petrie has, as evidenced by his own actions, made the wrong call with his past four appointments. They need Mr Right far more than Mr Right Now.

Desperately seeking Romanov

Vladimir Romanov, the owner of Hearts and no stranger to this column thanks to his entertaining whimsy, upped his game to all-new heights this week. One day he was paying players the wages that had been overdue since mid-October, and therefore calling off the prospect of legal action by the players via their trade union. The next, he was announcing that he is considering selling the Edinburgh club - or, at the every least, "looking for a partner". That advertisement seems as appealing as a dinner date with Hannibal Lector. Romanov has taken Hearts into dangerous waters. They are weighed down by a debt of over 30m, with a wages-to-turnover ratio of over 100%, the highest in the land. The majority of that debt is owed to Ukio Bankas, the Lithuanian financial house owned by Romanov. The Hearts owner is also courting, in his way, the local council with a view to selling Tynecastle and pitching up at an all-new jointly-owned community stadium. Romanov has said he is tired of football, or at least Scottish football, run, as he claims to believe it is, by corrupt forces including but not exclusively the media, politicians, referees, the Scottish Football Association and the Old Firm. He has, he says, other playthings with which to pursue his sporting pleasures. He may mean the Lithuanian basketball team, Zalgiris Kaunas, who have become that sport's version of Hearts. He has hired, harassed and fired a series of head coaches there, including one during the championship series of matches, leaving his team to run plays and decide on substitutions themselves. That didn't work out. However, it does provide an image that should worry anyone who cares for Hearts. That is Romanov leaving a team drifting out of control, a victim of an unfathomable owner who will sabotage success on a whim. At Hearts he has consistently outspent everybody outwith the Old Firm and had he invested that amount with greater wisdom and less authority, Hearts would have had a great chance on more than one occasion of ending the duopoly of Rangers and Celtic that their owner claims to despise. Instead, they are saddled with a murky debt that makes a straightforward sale the most unlikely of outcomes from Romanov's end game.

Very friendly

Scotland are in Cyprus for Friday's friendly international, a match that comes after their elimination from Euro 2012 and well before the start of the World Cup campaign. Meaningless? Well, kind of. Craig Levein, the national coach, has been left with a squad that puts his biggest names next to players who may have to refrain from asking Darren Fletcher for his autograph. Ryan Stevenson, a 27-year-old midfielder who has spent most of this season as an emergency striker for Hearts and most of his career in the First Division, is rewarded for his form. So, too, Gary Mackenzie, who was at Dundee before journeying south and is now at Milton Keynes Dons. Craig Samson, also 27, has been all over as a goalkeeper, not always as first choice and not always in the SPL, but his form at St Mirren gives him a shot at a Scotland shirt. By far the most interesting new name is that of Jordan Rhodes, born in England but schooled in Scotland during the playing career of his father, the goalkeeper Andy Rhodes, and so qualified via the latest route available to Craig Levein, the national coach. Of the new faces, his is the one you can bank on seeing in action, as that will make sure the 21-year-old will be eligible only for Scotland. His strike rate at Huddersfield Town, replicated for Scotland at Under-21 level, suggests Levein may have had a fight on his hands had he waited too much longer.

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