Robson in pole position after fall of Burley

The former England manager could return to club football following the shock departure of the architect of Hearts' revival. Nick Harris reports
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The root of those differences is that Romanov controls signings and interferes with the day-to-day running of the team. In Burley's short reign, Romanov even bought players without his manager's knowledge, and on Friday failed to promise Burley that he would not do so again.

If Burley conveys any of that to his mentor Robson in the coming days, it might curb the former England manager's enthusiasm. But Robson, 72, who had talks with Romanov in the summer about taking the Hearts job, said yesterday: "I didn't take the job before for personal reasons, but my circumstances are different now. It's an attractive job and I left Mr Romanov on good terms."

Whether any fresh approach to Robson has been made is not known. He is abroad on holiday and is not due to return until tomorrow. Coincidentally, he will be in Edinburgh on Thursday to attend the funeral of Johnny Haynes, his former Fulham and England team-mate.

Other candidates for the job may include Valdas Ivanauskas, a former head coach of the Romanov-owned Kaunas (Lithuania's champions), Nevio Scala, the veteran Italian coach, who was also interviewed for the Hearts job in the summer, and Anatoly Byshovets, a former Russian international who worked under Burley's predecessor, John Robertson.

Conspiracy theorists were handed myriad titbits over the weekend to lob into the rumour pot. Newcastle's Graeme Souness and Sunderland's Mick McCarthy were both at Tynecastle on Saturday as Hearts beat Dunfermline 2-0 to stay top of the league.

Both were scouting, although that did not stop suggestions that Hearts and Newcastle are about to swap managers.

More credible is the belief that Burley will re-emerge as a manager at Aston Villa or Birmingham. But he did not leave Tynecastle with anything agreed.

"There was nothing extraneous about his departure," a source said, also ruling out the possibility that Burley had been approached about taking over at Rangers.

One thing is certain. Shortly after Romanov had announced on Friday that he had secured 55 per cent of Hearts' shares and was bidding for the whole lot (in a deal that values the club at a potential bargain price of £4.4m), his differences with Burley became unsustainable.

In a face-to-face meeting, ultimatums were issued by both sides. Burley wanted guarantees of autonomy. Romanov wanted a manager who would do what he was told. This would include accepting any signings - like those recently of Samuel Camazzola and Ibrahim Tall - that Romanov made unilaterally.

A source close to Burley denies he resigned, the implication being that he was sacked. There has been no official confirmation of this, and there is unlikely to be. All parties signed a confidentiality agreement. Romanov will benefit from Burley's silence about how he runs his Tynecastle regime. It can only be assumed that Burley's reward for putting pen to that piece of paper will be an acceptable pay-off.

He had completed only 114 days of work at the start of what was supposed to be a two-year contract. He can take huge personal credit for signing top-scoring Rudi Skacel on loan from Marseilles, and for inspiring his four Scottish internationals - Craig Gordon, Steven Pressley, Andy Webster and Paul Hartley - to the form of their careers this season.

It is perhaps no surprise that Hearts should have had an extraordinary year since Romanov took a 29.9 per cent stake in February. Romanov's whole life has been extraordinary. The 58-year-old former Soviet submariner has amassed his fortune (estimates of which vary from £260m to £500m) through a variety of businesses, primarily textiles and metals, since the liberalisation of the Eastern Bloc economies. He started Lithuania's first independent bank, Ukio, and has interests in several football clubs, including Kaunas.

Soon after he bought his initial stake in Hearts, who had debts of around £19m, there was huge debate about selling Tynecastle, for £20m, to clear them. A deal had been arranged, pre-Romanov, with a property developer, but Romanov came out against the sale. Around the same time Hearts swapped bankers, with Ukio becoming the club's main debt provider.

In May, as Hearts were heading for a fifth-place finish in the SPL, Romanov dispensed with the services of manager John Robertson, who declined an offer to take a lesser position at the club only seven months after succeeding Craig Levein.

Romanov then went hunting for a big-name replacement, talking to both Robson and Scala. He was reportedly turned down by both before appointing Burley, only weeks after Burley had parted company with Derby in acrimonious circumstances.

Burley cited differences with Derby's director of football, Murdo Mackay, as the reason for that split, and strongly denied rumours that he had turned up for work drunk.

Whatever his state of mind when he arrived at Tynecastle, it worked for Hearts. He will be sorely missed, while Romanov is in danger of throwing away a mountain of goodwill. The secrecy surrounding the weekend's events will not help.