Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The kids are alright

What a difference a week makes. Mental note to self: after not having blogged for many blue moons, avoid doing so when you're still getting over a rather sore defeat in a cup tournament. The path trodden by Jambos is a turbulent and frustrating one, that's for sure, but this week we might have something to smile about.

While performances still leave a little (or a lot) to be desired, there's clearly a slightly more tenacious and confident mood setting in at Tynecastle. Early season results were shocking but going by conversations with friends, the main bug bear seemed not to be the fact we were leaking points all over the place, it was the fact that the players were surrendering so meekly in the face of what can only be described as equally rotten opposition. Fast forward a few months and we might not yet be confident enough to think that we're in with a chance of pushing for Europa, but there's a quietly hopeful belief that we might at the very least give Utd and Hibs a bit of a run for their money. But don't say it out loud, not just yet....

So there we were, ravaged by injuries and still taking in the consequences of 'that' brawl in Hamilton - so we turn to the youngsters. Craig Thomson had already come in and impressed, but others had failed to make quite the same initial impact. Smith, Robinson and the much hyped Templeton had their chances and seemed more than a little daunted by the challenges of the SPL. And then, of course, we had Aberdeen. The less said about that little outing the better.

However, recent league fixtures tell rather a different story. Gordon Smith had a dream start with a goal against Hibs at the start of January but since then hasn't quite managed the same level of impact as Scott 'rocket man' Robinson, who despite not having scored has nevertheless cemented his place in the hearts of the support with some energetic performances. The high hopes we all have for Templeton meant that his introduction to the first team was only ever going to come burdened with a huge bag of expectation and while we might have had cause for slight disappointment a few weeks ago, there's no doubting that he's gradually building in confidence and beginning to find his feet. Hearts scoring is always a good thing, but I particularly cannot wait until the goals come for Temps. I think it could be the start of something rather wonderful.

The ups and downs of the last few years have left jaded pockets of frustration in the Hearts support and it would be true to say that from time to time, we're perhaps not quite as patient as we should be. Under-performing or out of form players tend to get it in the neck - some deservedly but some less so. These youngsters need our support and it's great to see that support is exactly what they're getting, and then some. Andy Driver was the last player I can remember to have the whole stadium leaping to their feet as he swept down the pitch but it happened last weekend and the feeling was immense. The fans are willing these kids on - they might not be firing in the goals just yet but their workrate and enthusiasm is something this squad has been missing lately. Let's hope it gives the older and more 'experienced' first team regulars some food for thought.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Hanging in there

One of my new year's resolutions was to try and update this blog more often than I had managed in 2009 but to be absolutely truthful, it's difficult enough to entertain brief conversations about Hearts with sympathetic friends never mind finding the motivation to sit down and actually write about them. However, it's not as if there isn't plenty to discuss.

Csaba v Vlad

This time last year we were well on our way to falling hook, line and sinker for our charmer of a manager. Csaba Laszlo had arrived and while quality football hadn't exactly broken out at Tynecastle, things were definitely looking up. Vladimir was keeping his distance (mostly), that fire sale hadn't happened and the results on the pitch weren't all that bad either. Supporters were responding to Laszlo's irrepressible enthusiasm for the job and the light hearted comedy of the pre-match press conference was eagerly awaited every week. And now? Not so much.

We applauded Csaba for his ability to manage an undoubtedly difficult relationship with the club owner but gradually over the past six or so months, that carefully nurtured rapport has broken down in spectacular fashion as they continue to fight out their differences in the Scottish press. Finger pointing, sly asides and confusion reign as their cryptic mutterings do nothing other than make one thing very clear indeed - the honeymoon is well and truly over. Csaba wants Vlad to spend, Vlad insists money is no object, Csaba has some players in mind, Vlad retorts that they're simply not good enough, Csaba touts himself for every available vacancy going, Vlad hosts tours around Tynecastle for prospective 'sport directors'. Those pantomime characters so snidely depicted in the tabloids have well and truly come alive.

Who is to blame for Witteveen? Why did we sign Kucharski? What's the point in having both Balogh and Kello? What's the story with Obua? Who's responsible for Suso? Why didn't we keep Bruno? Where the heck did you find Cinikas? And most importantly, where the hell is our proven striker? We hear of mysterious lists, we watch ineffective signings struggle on the pitch and then we endlessly speculate on whether Team Csaba or Team Vlad are responsible. McLeod and MacLean turn up for trials over Christmas, Csaba tells the press they're what we need and rumours abound of a mysterious New Year's message from Lithuania informing us that we won't be seeing any signings this January no matter what. The fans are tired of guesswork and even the journalists seem to have fallen exhausted by the wayside, the antics of our manager and owner which so often gave them reams of page filler are dismissed in favour of stories detailing the escapades of unruly Old Firm WAGS and Morton strikers having their bums pinched in Greenock nightspots.

It's not that I don't have sympathy for Csaba - I very much do - but his insistence on engaging in public spats with the owner is doing nothing for manager-fan relations and goodwill is rapidly running out. We all know that the owner is difficult and quite possibly the most infuriating employer on this earth, but he's not going anywhere soon and if we can get our head around that fact I'd like to think that an intelligent man like Csaba could do the same. I'm not yet in the manager-must-go camp but I'm hanging on by the skin of my teeth, and mostly because I sincerely doubt if his potential replacements would be an improvement on what we already have. Csaba is effervescent, tenacious and resilient. He's smart enough to know how to weather the storm that is season 2009/10 - I just wish he'd get on with it.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

So, here we go again....

Well, here we go. I’ve decided to stop feeling guilty for lack of bloggage in recent months and just accept the fact that sometimes, life just gets in the way. To those who manage to write every day – kudos to you all, I have no idea how you manage it.

So let’s just jump right in…where are we? Well, May brought a much happier finale than the season before and the final run-in ended up going surprisingly smoothly thanks to the tenacity of the team and – let’s be honest here – some rather convenient results elsewhere. Still, there’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever in my mind that our final position in 3rd place was thoroughly deserved. The sight of the players chucking Csaba up in the air and a Tynecastle full of delighted Jambos might have provoked some rather sneering comments from other, less maroon-tinted corners of Scottish football but it was a reaction borne of as much relief as it was excitement. Things had worked out rather nicely last season, but I know I couldn’t really enjoy it properly until I knew we’d actually achieved something or had something to show for our troubles – our Europa League place was just the tonic we needed.

So here we are, a bunch of new signings and the start of a new season is just around the corner. Ian Black has finally arrived after what felt like the longest pre-contract arrangement ever, we have a couple of new faces in Kucharski, Bouzid, Witteveen and Suso, and the return of a familiar face in Jose Goncalves. We’ve lost a few players – most notably Bruno Aguiar, Christos Karipidis and Robbie Neilson – and we’ve been linked with tons of names, some interesting and some far less so. I don’t know why today seemed like a good day to revive this blog, perhaps it was the news that we’ve been linked with a striker who actually seems to have a record of goal-scoring? Of course, it would be churlish to think that we’ve completely acted out of character – apparently Izale McLeod could give Mikey Stewart a run for his money in the hothead stakes – but all cool, calm and reasoned judgement went out of the window when I saw his wee video on youtube. 2 minutes and 48 seconds are all it took to convince me that this is the man who will solve our goalscoring problems, see what you think…

Friday, 3 April 2009

We're getting into this Twitter thing...

A proper blog entry is long overdue and I hope to get one done by later on today but in the meantime, I thought I'd mention that we're now trying to get our heads around this Twitter thing and have begun using it to provide updates on HeartsFCnews website entries. It's all a work in progress and sometimes I just forget about it altogether but in time, I'm sure it'll become a useful tool for HeartsFCnews. Anyway, you can find our 'tweets' on the website itself, the side bar of this blog or by clicking this link and going directly to Twitter...

Friday, 13 March 2009

T'was the night before the derby...

Okay, so it's not quite the heady mix of nerves, nausea and excitement that afflicted me before the cup game and it's not as if the result of this particular game has any sort of specific and meaningful outcome, but nonetheless I'm already looking forward to tomorrow. This feeling requires no explanation, it's a derby. Enough said. Going head to head with your local rivals is about as good as it gets but there are no prizes for second place, it's winner takes all.

For Hearts, this game - like any other - is about finding the points that will take them to Europe. In that respect, it's just as important as every other game we'll play between now and the end of the season. For Hibs, it's about finding themselves a place in the top six and finding some sort of highlight to a generally rotten season. A win against us might just give them the confidence and impetus to go on a last-minute run of form, although the jury is out on whether or not even a fifth place finish would be enough to keep Mixu in the hot seat.

But regardless of the benefits a win would bring for either side, it's so much more than just three points. There's pride at stake, and that's what makes it so special.

While some might be content to revel in the bravado gleaned from a decent league position and a few recent wins, I've never been one to tempt fate. Hibs might be having a difficult time right now but if anything, that makes them infinitely more dangerous than they would be if, for example, the positions were reversed. They got themselves a much needed win but they've been ritually humiliated both on and off the pitch in recent weeks; even their own manager saw fit to blast them in the press. They're not playing nice football but either are we, and the individual quality in their squad doesn't really reflect the performances that they've been churning out. Something has to give, and what better time and place for a renaissance than at home against your greatest rivals?

Of course, this sort of comeback would require some serious grit, commitment, a bit of luck and a dollop of decent football. They'd also need to rely on Hearts coming out and giving far less than we've offered in the past few fixtures against the likes of Motherwell and Dundee United. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective. Can Hearts keep that up and can Hibs find it in them to handle it, overcome it and then win? I'm not one for predictions, but I just hope the Hibs supporters have more faith in their team and manager than I do.

It's a derby and the old cliche is true, you really don't ever know how it's going to work out. But I have faith in the players and the manager, they've earned that this season, and I get the feeling they won't let us down tomorrow.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Vote Vladimir

Just when you think it's all quiet on the Eastern front, Vladimir chucks another curve ball into the mix. It would appear that when he's not dancing on the telly, outing McMafioso or dressing monkeys as journalists, he's quite into his politics.

After having a chinwag with Ruben Palazuelos a few weeks back, it didn't occur to me to note whether or not there was a knowing twinkle in his eye when he informed me that El Presidente was in the building. But being head honcho of a football club seems to be infinitely less than the full sum of his true aspirations - Vladimir is running for President of Lithuania.

Without having visited the country, or indeed, being able to rely on the blethers of Google translator for an accurate English write up of their press articles on the subject, it's difficult to gauge whether or not he might be a popular choice for the citizens of Lithuania. However, with very little info to go on it seems that Vladimir might well have been a tycoon of industry but prior to his shenanigans on 'Dancing with the Stars' he was largely unknown. I have no doubt that the barrage of Vlad-related articles published in the Scottish press will, to some extent, have filtered through to the papers in Lithuania and will have given him somewhat of a more tabloid friendly profile but is this enough to get him the 20,000 pre-election votes that are required to validate his candidacy? Will the Lithuanian people respond to this type of publicity when it comes to the serious matter of choosing the head of their government?

I'd attempt to go into the more obvious (and less interesting) obstacles but as I have no grasp whatsoever of the political culture in Lithuania, I can only assume that his business interests and industrial activities may conflict with any political aspirations, not to mention the opportunity for relationships and business deals that would compromise the integrity of any role in government. Rather than make further assumptions on what this might all mean for Hearts, I'm going to steer clear of the 'what ifs' and stick with one tiny little glowing gem of relief that might help soothe the spirits of any nervy Jambos. Put simply, if he was half as dodgy as people have suggested he might be - would he really be running for political office?

Before anyone hoots with laughter at my naivety, I'm well aware that politicians are rarely the most virtuous species but there's a very big difference between having a few skeletons in your closet and being a bonafide crook. It's almost a given these days that the most powerful people in society won't always play nice but if you have something big to hide, exposing yourself to the level of scrutiny that comes with running for political office is hardly the smart way to protect yourself and your interests. There isn't much information available on Vladimir, who he is and where exactly he got his cash, but it's probably safe to assume that if he starts to make any real progress with this campaign to run for President the information floodgates could well be thrown open.

The alternative is that he's just a bit bored and fancies the extra publicity. In any other set of circumstances involving almost any other individual, I wouldn't even consider going down that path but what we have come to understand over the past few years is that with Vladimir, anything is possible. Goodness knows what he's up to but it's going to be fun to watch and see how this one pans out. But for sheer entertainment and services to lunacy alone he'd definitely get my vote.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Moaning minnies of the SPL

Maybe I don't remember details as clearly as I should. I can barely remember who scored in any fixtures which happened longer than 2 weeks ago, I can't remember specifics about most transfers and I don't have any real recollections of specific comments made in television or press articles over the past few years. But I am sure that the level of catty comments between managers has never been quite this bad. There are handbags strewn across the SPL playing field.

Vladimir Romanov arrived in Edinburgh and was initially described as a breath of fresh air when he first began casting opinions on all and sundry. To begin with, his critique of the Scottish game and the SFA was refreshingly honest and we watched and listened with gleeful admiration. Of course, we all know how that turned out and these days, both Jambos and other onlookers are less inclined to pay quite so much attention to his profound rantings and Mafia-tinged tantrums. Love him or loathe him, there's no doubt that he was something new and different - football people just don't tend to sustain that sort of outspoken behaviour for very long.

So, by rights, we shouldn't really be all that surprised by recent events. Hearts supporters have adopted a certain siege mentality when it comes to criticism. We had to. Anything less would have seen the majority of us in straightjackets by the halfway point of last season. But before now, there was usually a good reason for the drama and scandal, a tangible reason for people to stick the knife in and cast aspersions upon the fine name of Heart of Midlothian Football Club. But to all intents and purposes, we've been really rather well behaved this season. A few red cards and Marius Zaliukas aside, our players haven't been getting into trouble or holding any impromptu press conferences to publicise dressing room unrest. Rumours of our demise were greatly exaggerated and we haven't had any plumbers trying to sue (or buy) us. We've even been doing rather well on the football pitch and have beaten off some decent competition to hang on to the coveted third spot....

Ah. Yes. That'll be it. We're doing rather well. We aren't supposed to be doing that, are we?

Perhaps Messrs Calderwood and Levein paid a little too much attention to rumour and underestimated both our squad and new-manager-on-the-block, Csaba Laszlo. Hearts didn't pick up many new players and going on last year's showing, not even the Special One himself should have managed to make a team out of that motley crew. But he did, and that might have been more than a little disappointing for those who expected to take advantage of our weakened state. These windows of opportunity don't come along very often and the prospect of a less competitive Hearts must have been very appealing for those who covet a regular place in the top end of the table.

McGhee might have fallen into the same trap, and probably had greater cause for hope following Motherwell's brief period of success last season and their reward of an even more brief soujourn into European football. But more importantly, there's that little incident with our managerial vacancy and the trip to Lithuania which culminated in a last minute change of heart in a departure lounge.

Thumbscrews wouldn't get it out of him but does anyone honestly believe that he doesn't regret that decision? I might wear maroon tinted glasses but I'd put money on the fact that he does. Laszlo's more than a thorn in his team's side, he's a constant reminder of what he could have had. Ouch.

Or maybe they're just moaning about Hearts because we don't play particularly pretty football and still manage to take points from them. Maybe our brand of smash and grab football is anathema to these sporting purists. It could be that simple, but it probably isn't. As Csaba explained, it's not about being attractive - it's about the points on the board. If you have nice football, you can die....and we wouldn't want that...we've got European adventures to consider.