Romanov struggles to end turmoil at Tynecastle

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The Independent Football

Speaking at Tynecastle yesterday, Romanov Jnr seemed genuine in his desire to transform Hearts. The concern for fans is who will pay the price if his family fails. Although Roman's father, Vladimir, owns 55.5 per cent of Hearts and is bidding for the rest, it had never been revealed before yesterday how much of his own £260m fortune he had personally risked in the venture. Romanov's legal adviser, Iain Young, confirmed the answer is £6m.

Yet the club has saleable assets of more than £30m. Even accounting for the £19.2m debt that Romanov inherited when he took his initial 29.9 per cent stake in Hearts in February, he is in a no-lose situation. The failure of his Hearts dream would cost him nothing, or even be personally profitable, while Hearts could be left without a home or any players of significance. Tynecastle is worth more than £20m to property developers and the playing squad has a conservative transfer value of £12m-plus.

Another twist is that Hearts' debt is now held by the Ukio, Lithuania's first independent bank, which was co-founded by Romanov Snr, who remains a major shareholder. So Ukio is earning interest from Hearts' debt, but is also in a position to call in that debt, triggering a sale of assets. A doomsday scenario, certainly, but not impossible and not one that Roman Romanov refuted with any conviction yesterday.

"We are here to stay," he said, explaining that financial reasons were nothing to do with it and that his father had been attracted to Scotland by the passion of the Hearts fans.

Young conceded that "people can always asset-strip a company", although he and Romanov Jnr tried to convince fans that the Romanovs were serious long-term owners. Romanov Snr is seeking the remaining shares and wants to de-list the club as soon as possible.

Doubts about Romanov Snr will persist until fans see hard evidence that the shambles of the past fortnight has been a necessary step to making Hearts genuine contenders in Europe. The club's chief executive, Phil Anderton, was sacked on Monday, and the chairman George Foulkes then had his resignation forced. That came 10 days after George Burley's departure as manager. So stunning evidence will be required, starting with a high-profile new manager.

Vladimir Romanov was in London yesterday, talking to candidates. Romanov Jnr said that he hoped for an appointment "very soon", although probably not before the home match against Dundee United this weekend.

Talking about Anderton's departure, Romanov Jnr said that Anderton was the right man for the job when he was appointed in March, but the club now needed someone with a "strong financial background".

He added: "In turbulent times, you see who is who, who can fight and struggle, and who can't." In other words, the Romanovs want someone to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Anderton had questioned Burley's departure, and had held back from publicly backing Romanov's fantasy claim that Hearts would win the Champions' League by 2007.

Romanov Snr said that Anderton and Foulkes had "not been able to do the things I have wanted to do". Evidently hiring Burley, who led Hearts unbeaten to the top of the SPL in front of sell-out crowds, was nowhere near enough. Romanov Snr wants more income, more quickly. One source said yesterday that he wanted six Hearts shops in Edinburgh and Anderton failed to persuade him it was too much, too soon.

Foulkes dismissed Romanov's claims that he and Anderton had failed to meet expectations as "manifest nonsense".

"Vladimir Romanov is behaving like a dictator and if he continues to do that then there will be a revolution," he said.