Romanov admits taking charge of Hearts team selection process

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The Independent Online

Vladimir Romanov, the multimillionaire owner of Heart of Midlothian, has finally made the sensational admission about what has long been suspected about his role at the club: he tells his managers who to select.

Asked the direct question, "Do you pick the team?", the 59-year-old Russian-born Lithuanian replied: "I did, and I will."

In many countries it is not unusual for owners to interfere in such a way, but Romanov's willingness to admit he does so, and to explain why, makes him unique in British football. He expanded on his master plan for Hearts as a "gesture to improve understanding" between himself and the media, and decided this week was the ideal time to do so because Scotland were playing in Kaunas, where he is based.

Not for the first time since he took over at Tynecastle, Romanov's words will grab headlines across Scotland, overshadowing his team's home game against St Mirren. The Scottish Premier League leaders, Celtic, face Aberdeen at Pittodrie this lunchtime with Thomas Gravesen expected to make his debut. Rangers host Falkirk and will welcome back their captain, Barry Ferguson, after a long injury lay-off. Paul Le Guen hopes to give a debut to Sasa Papac, the Bosnia-Herzegovina defender. But Hearts, and Romanov, will be the subject of the hottest gossip around the grounds.

Romanov, who sacked George Burley and Graham Rix last season before hiring Valdas Ivanauskas as head coach, said his input on team affairs arises when he doubts whether the coach has full knowledge not only of a player's form in matches and training but also their physical condition as assessed by specialists and medics. "If I see that the coach is in any doubt about his answer, then there is a doubt [about who plays]," he said. His own decision, when he feels it is necessary, is final.

Romanov said that he had promoted Scottish players to his coaches and that he wanted to develop a Hearts team with Scots at its core to dominate Scottish football. "Being champions would not be enough. I want to build a club at a high level in the game. I want to see the development of young players at the club, to see at least five more Scottish players in the team."

Four Scotland internationals - Craig Gordon, Steven Pressley, Robbie Neilson and Paul Hartley - are first-choice picks. Romanov named five youngsters he hopes to bring through this season: Lee Wallace, Andrew Driver, Jamie Mole, Christophe Berra and Calum Elliot.

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