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Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Pulling at Hearts' strings
By Clive Lindsay

Any doubts about who was in charge at Tynecastle were extinguished on Friday when George Burley exited as manager hours after it was announced that Vladimir Romanov had become majority shareholder.

Romanov had been pulling the strings at the Edinburgh club even before taking a 29% stake in February.

He was instrumental in the appointment of John Robertson - and the head coach's departure at the end of his first season.

The Lithuanian banker concluded that Hearts' record scorer did not have sufficient experience or worldwide renown to take the club to a new level of achievement.

Rudi Skacel is welcomed to Tynecastle by Burley
Rudi Skacel has attracted interest after being signed by George Burley
Romanov chose Burley as the successor after an exhaustive summer search.

But those in the know expressed little surprise that the former Derby County, Ipswich Town and Ayr United boss had also departed despite leading the club to the top of the table after just 113 days and 11 games of unbeaten Scottish Premier League football.

Romanov's other team, FBK Kaunas, are well known for regularly dispensing with managers.

And Burley had publicly admitted that Romanov's insistence on signing players of his own choosing had made the job of manager more of a challenge than he had been expecting.

The managerial grapevine had also been thick with rumours of Burley's unhappiness at Romanov's attempted interference in team selection: a situation that many agree they would find impossible to live with.

Romanov had questioned the need to sign French midfielder Julien Brellier, who became influential in a holding role under Burley.

The prospective owner is also said to have been unhappy that countrymen Saulius Mikoliunas and Deividas Cesnauskis, signed last season, did not feature in the same midfield.

While Brazilian midfielder Samuel Camazzola has featured, the other signing thrust on Burley by Romanov during the summer, Senegal defender Ibrahim Tall, has yet to make his debut.

More friction was expected in the lead up to January's transfer window, when Hearts would be seeking the kind of signings that would help them end the Old Firm monopoly on the title.

Burley had already upset the applecart by heading in-form Celtic and leaving reigning champions Rangers adrift in fourth.

So it was the timing of his departure that came as a shock and appears to have followed a stormy meeting with Romanov on Friday.

It seems to have been triggered by rumours linking Burley with possible managerial vacancies back in English football, most notably Aston Villa.

Hearts midfielder Samuel Camazzola
Samuel Camazzola was signed at Vladimir Romanov's insistence
Burley's wife was reluctant to move from their Ipswich home and had not moved to Edinburgh.

And Hearts sources believe that Burley would have jumped at any offer from a good Premiership or Championship club.

Romanov increased his stake in Hearts to 55% on Friday and it is being suggested that he acted swiftly to prevent a similar scenario to last season, when Craig Levein left for Leicester City and took with him several of the club's best players.

The Lithuanian has since been quoted as saying that he did not believe that Hearts under Burley were capable of playing with the kind of class he required.

Now the ageing Sir Bobby Robson, who came close to accepting the job in the summer, has put his hat back into the ring along with another former candidate, Nevio Scala.

Hungary manager Lothar Matthaus is also thought to be interested.

Hearts fan Graeme Souness could have become a target had he not saved his job at Newcastle United with the weekend win over Sunderland.

Whoever takes charge will not only have a hard act to follow and need to match Romanov's high expectations but will have to live with a job description common on the Continent but alien to most British managers.


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