Lithuanian tycoon stirs up more turmoil

  • 2006-03-29
  • By Peter Walsh

CRUMBLING GRAHAM: Many are dismayed by Romanov's choice to sack Hearts coach Graham Rix.

RIGA - The Scottish Premier League side Hearts and Spanish giants Real Madrid have at least one thing in common: the rate at which they're going through coaches this season. Hearts' majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov sacked head coach Graham Rix on March 22 after just 19 games in charge.

The move has further destabilized a team which had serious pretensions to breaking the Celtic/ Rangers duopoly in Scottish top-flight soccer at the start of the season and angered the team's fans. Romanov has appointed fellow Lithuanian Valdas Ivanauskas as interim coach. Rix was reportedly sacked for a string of poor results that saw Hearts drop 24 points since he took charge. He was also blamed for several substandard player signings and for leaking the news to the media that Romanov was exclusively responsible for team selection.

"I suggested we say goodbye to him as head coach earlier but the guys in the team insisted in letting him stay and I followed their wishes," Romanov said. Romanov, who has also overseen the dismissals of managers John Robertson and George Burley in the last 10 months, said that he had run out of patience with the former Portsmouth and Oxford boss.
"If we had stuck by him we would have put ourselves in danger of losing our second place position and failing to qualify for the Champions League," he said.

Many people were left bewildered and angered by Rix's sacking. With Hearts currently in second place in the Premier League and in the last four of the Scottish Cup, the team was starting to find some consistency and stability. But the writing was on the wall for Rix since he revealed in a Feb. 7 team address that he was no longer in charge of team selection
A player's agent gave the story to the press but Romanov held Rix personally responsible.

This development left no one in any doubt that Rix's contract wouldn't be extended at the end of the season but the suddenness of his sacking still came as a shock at such a crucial stage in the season. Some fans have threatened to tear up their season-tickets if Hearts fail to beat Hibs in the upcoming Scottish Cup semi-final.
Livingston manager John Robertson, who was the first casualty of Romanov's regime, wants the Scottish Football Managers and Coaches Association to investigate the spate of sackings.

"Something should be implemented by the SPL - something in the legislation to protect managers, because at the moment contracts are just being ripped up," he told BBC Radio Scotland.