Hearts head into 2020 with a sense of apprehension. What next for the famous Gorgie club?
“Daniel immediately turned round their fortunes, leading the Oakwell outfit to a second-placed finish ahead of Jack Ross’ Sunderland, and securing promotion back to the Championship at the first time of asking,” proclaimed Hearts in an official statement on December 7th to confirm the arrival of new manager Daniel Stendel. A jibe at new Hibs boss Jack Ross was always sure to be lapped up by the Tynecastle faithful who mostly seemed enthused by his arrival after a dismal start to the season under Craig Levein and Austin MacPhee.
Fast forward exactly three weeks since that statement and the wave of enthusiasm that welcomed Stendel may already be on the curb. Normally, its said that a new manager will provide an immediate bounce and embark on a honeymoon period – see Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer at Man Utd and closer to home Lee Miller and David McCracken at Falkirk. However, Stendel has had nothing of the sort and after four defeats in a row to St Johnstone, Hamilton, Celtic and bitter rivals Hibs – three of those fixtures at home I may add – he’s already in desperate need of a result in another home match; this time against Derek McInnes and Aberdeen.
So just three weeks on from the coming of Stendel, how are Hearts still in such dire straights – rooted to the foot of the table despite having a bigger budget than every team in the league bar Celtic, Rangers and arguably Aberdeen.
Examination of potential problems to follow…
Fröhliche Weihnachten – Merry Christmas
A first potential issue lies in the fact that at Christmas Stendel decided to return home to Germany for a few days with the players given the day off on Christmas day. Now this might seem like nothing but having inherited a major Scottish footballing side in dire straights surely any pre-employment arrangements of time off could have went on hold to enable him and Hearts to fully prepare to try and encourage enthusiasm amongst the fans by beating Hibs. Unfortunately for Stendel and Hearts, hindsight is a wonderful thing and after the 2-0 defeat at home to Hibs it’s too little too late for that.
Where is the sporting director?
When Craig Levein was sacked, the mainstream Scottish media, Hearts fans and even myself thought that Craig Levein and his right hand man Austin MacPhee would leave the club as both parties – the club and both gentlemen – looked as if they could all benefit from a fresh start. Especially after Ann Budge made it clear that the club were seeking to appoint both a manager and a sporting director. Both roles that rather bizzarely Levein held at the exact same time. However, in yet another bizarre turn of events, MacPhee became caretaker manager for what felt like an age as Ann Budge courted Stendel. Meanwhile, it was revealed by the club that Levein would remain at the club in a different capacity.
Subsequently, we now know that both Levein and MacPhee are currently sharing the responsibilities of the sporting director role. Levein working at the club in the mornings primarily focusing on developing the youth infrastructure at the club while MacPhee is working from home on other sporting directorial responsibilities.
Surely if Stendel is to have half a chance of succeeding at Hearts, he needs Budge to appoint a fresh sporting director as matter of urgency. One who shares Budge’s vision of Hearts being a club regularly competing for the European places in the Scottish Premiership.
The January Transfer window and beyond for Hearts.
This takes me back to the title of this article: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Surely, Budge and Hearts have a clear plan for how they plan to operate in the January transfer window. Especially now with the hindsight of what some would call shoddy preparations for the boxing day encounter with bitter rivals Hibs.
With twenty games of the season already gone and Hearts rooted to the bottom of the table, three points adrift of Hamilton Accies, the time for decisive action is immediate. Thankfully for Hearts fans, the need for decisive action appears to be on Stendel’s agenda as he has already stated that Levein’s marquee signing Glen Whelan is free to leave the club.
Hearts fans can only hope that Stendel can be as decisive when recruiting in January to attempt to move Hearts up the table and towards a brighter future. Until then, he can kickstart his managerial reign at Tynecastle with a win over Aberdeen tomorrow. Over to you, Daniel!