The three most senior players at Heart of Midlothian yesterday launched an astonishing, unprecedented players' revolt against Hearts' millionaire Lithuanian owner, Vladimir Romanov, saying there was lack of "backing, direction and coherence" at the club and that it had caused "significant unrest" in the dressing-room.
The move was prompted by a private threat by Romanov to put all his players up for sale if they failed to beat Dunfermline in today's SPL match. In a sign that Romanov's eccentricity has stretched beyond even his typically bizarre extremes, a club source confirmed he has also threatened to field a side of teenagers and youngsters against Celtic next weekend.
If Tynecastle has had an air more of soap opera than sport since Romanov arrived, then yesterday was the episode when the good guys - led by the club captain, Steven Pressley - finally snapped under pressure and gave the villain, Romanov, both barrels.
This follows Romanov's repeated interference in team affairs and came just days after the manager, Valdas Ivanauskas, announced he was taking two weeks' rest. Ivanauskas is Hearts' fourth permanent manager since Romanov took a controlling interest 20 months ago. Eduard Malofeev is acting as interim coach.
Ivanauskas claimed his break was not directly related to Romanov's meddling, but club insiders say when Ivanauskas told Romanov his starting XI for last week's game with Kilmarnock, Romanov insisted upon four changes. Ivanauskas had no choice. Hearts lost 2-0.
The first sign yesterday that something extraordinary was about to happen was when Hearts cancelled their regular press conference. Instead, Pressley arrived, flanked by the goalkeeper Craig Gordon and the midfielder Paul Hartley. The trio are the spine of Hearts' - and Scotland's - first-choice XIs.
"Whether [Ivanauskas] returns or not is almost incidental in relation to the problems associated with this club," Pressley said, reading from a prepared text.
"I have tried, along with the coaching staff and certain colleagues, to implement the correct values and disciplines, but it has become an impossible task.
"There is only so much a coaching staff, a captain and certain colleagues can do without the full backing, direction and coherence of the manager and those running the football club. Due to the circumstances, morale, understandably, is not good and there is significant unrest within the dressing-room."
Pressley is hugely respected by team-mates and fans alike and has acted as a buffer, peacemaker and club conscience during Romanov's reign. Yesterday, he looked drained, declining to comment further.
Romanov was at Tynecastle, although not in the room when the players were there. He declined to talk and briefly tried to prevent photographers from taking pictures, blocking a revolving door to hamper them.
He was asked whether Pressley, Gordon and Hartley would be dropped for today's game with Dunfermline. A win would keep Hearts in second place and maintain the pressure on Celtic. He did not reply.
"Who's going to play?" he was asked. "I play," he said, and walked away.Reuse content