The Edinburgh club claimed that they and their former manager were bound by a confidentiality agreement, and issued a statement saying that Burley's sudden exit yesterday morning just five hours before facing Dunfermline Athletic had been by "mutual agreement", citing "irreconcilable differences".
Burley's team finished the day as they started it, at the top of the Scottish Premier League table, but he was nowhere to be seen. The Hearts players were visibly unhappy. Two of them, the goalscorer Rudi Skacel and Paul Hartley, tore off their shirts at the end to reveal T-shirts proclaiming "For the gaffer". The club refused to reveal whether Burley had resigned. The popular belief is that he left because he could no longer tolerate interference from Vladimir Romanov, the club's majority shareholder.
Hearts have yet to lose a game, extending their unbeaten start to 11 games, but losing their manager was something that no one had predicted. George Foulkes, the chairman, read a statement long after the 16,500 fans had left Tynecastle which said that the club are looking for a replacement who will take Hearts into the Champions' League.
"I think there will be a queue round Tynecastle on Monday morning," said Foulkes. "There will be interest from Europe and beyond. This is a plum managerial job in British football."
The man who had all the answers, Romanov, stood impas-sively in the directors' box as fans vented their anger after the match. Just 24 hours earlier, the Lithuanian millionaire had announced his plans to buy out every remaining share and turn the club into his private fiefdom.
"Trust me," said Romanov, as he promised fans the club would win the Champions' League inside three years. They remain on course to compete in Europe's premier event, but who will be in charge of the team? Despite transforming Hearts in his four months in charge, Burley was unhappy with Romanov's autocratic ways. The one-time Soviet submarinerrecruited several players among the 12 new recruits without Burley's knowledge.
This became public last month when Samuel Camazzola appeared, to Burley's bemusement. While the manager accom-modated the Brazilian midfielder in his team plans, the first cracks in the Burley-Romanov relation-ship could be detected.
The players were only told of Burley's exit when they met for their pre-match lunch at Dalmahoy golf club. "We were shocked, because George was popular as a manager," said the captain, Steven Pressley. Now the man who was named the Premiership manager of the Year at Ipswich Town in 1995 could now be on the radar of under-achieving clubs in England such as Portsmouth, Everton and Birmingham City.
The game was almost incidental. Tynecastle was like a morgue, but the anxiety evaporated when Skacel broke Dunfer-mline's resistance after 21 minutes, thrashing in a left-foot shot from the edge of the box. Two minutes later his compatriot, Michal Pospisil, conjured up a curling effort that found the roof of the net. The only blot was the late dismissal of Pressley for tripping Darren Young.
It was the Romans who subscribed to the theory of "bread and circuses" deflecting the public's attention, but the postscript from the Hearts players and fans meant that Romanov could not quite manage that yesterday.
THE BURLEY FILE
Timetable of trouble at Tynecastle
AS A PLAYER: Ipswich, Manchester Utd, Sunderland, Gillingham, Motherwell, Ayr United (player- manager), Falkirk, Motherwell (player-coach), Colchester (player-manager).
AS A MANAGER: Ipswich (1995-Oct 2002), Derby (2003-June 2005, Hearts June-Oct 2005).
HEARTS TIMELINE: Joined on 30 June (official title, head coach) after resigning from Derby after allegations that he had supervised training while drunk. Hearts started the Scottish Premier League season with eight consecutive League wins. Only last Friday the Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov took his shareholding in the club to 55 per cent. Burley said: "It's great news. One of the reasons I came to Hearts was after going to Lithuania to speak to Mr Romanov." Yesterday, Burley parted company with the League leaders.Reuse content