DANIEL STENDEL’S patience has officially snapped.
The Hearts head coach has seen his man management and communication skills called into question this week but his message on Wednesday morning was crystal clear: the time for excuses is over.
Stendel was visibly exasperated at suggestions his squad are struggling to cope with the pressure of the Jambos’ precarious position or having issues with his tactical instructions.
Hearts’ problem has been a weakness of mentality and a deluded belief that relegation is inconceivable, Stendel contends.
However, he is adamant tomorrow evening’s fraught fixture against relegation rivals St Mirren is the perfect occasion for Hearts’ underachieving stars to face reality and prove they are fit to wear the jersey.
This was not quite throwing his players under the bus – but it was a robust nudge closer to oncoming traffic.
“There were a lot of excuses in the last weeks about pressure or that the players aren’t confident,” Stendel said. “Well, this is professional football. You need to handle it and the players need to know that this is their job.
“We need quality and mentality and we have spoken with the players about this. We need players who understand that it is a big privilege to play for this club.
“They are playing for a big club in Scotland and they are all on good contracts here so everybody can expect them to do all that they can to stay up in this league and win games. This is what I expect.
“The main thing is that we all now understand how difficult this situation is.”
The former Hannover and Barnsley boss is always straight-talking when he sits down with the press corps, but this was a prickly, brusque Stendel.
One win in 11 league matches will do that to a coach, as will reports of unease within the dressing room.
Captain Steven Naismith and Toby Sibbick have rubbished those suggestions, while Stendel has sought to emphasise that he is not re-inventing the wheel with anything he is asking his players to do.
Nevertheless, the time for talking is evidently over.
“We cannot keep saying ‘next week, next week’,” he continued. “We have played Ross County, Hamilton and Kilmarnock and we did not win one game.
“If you expect ‘next week it is all better’, it will not happen.
“When you watch the last game [2-2 draw against Hamilton] it’s not a problem of style. It’s that for too long we have been in a comfortable position.
“What we want is not ‘Daniel Stendel style’ or ‘German style’ – it is normal football for everybody in Scotland, Germany, England; every country.
“I say easy things. I have dropped so much back from my expectations because I see the situation.”
Stendel is not ignorant to the threat to his own position.
While the criticism of Hearts’ players is undeniably merited, his blunt assessment of their failings represents a gamble and, should it not garner a response in Paisley, serious questions will be asked regarding the coach’s ability to extricate the club from this mess.
The blame for the Jambos plight may be largely laid at the door of Craig Levein, but Stendel has now had enough time and sufficient backing in the transfer market to gradually inherit some culpability for their continued malaise.
“It is normal [to be under pressure] at this club and I expected more from me, especially in the results,” conceded Stendel. “In terms of what we do and how much we work, the quality is good.
“But we are not happy about the results and the results decide whether you are good or not.
“We can help every player, train well and have a good plan – but if we don’t win on a Saturday, the opinion is: it was s***. This is my job.”
Defeat against the Buddies would see Hearts slip six points adrift of the guaranteed safety of 10th place.
“The expectation was so different, especially at the start of the season, for the players,”
Stendel adds. “They had ambitions but at this moment the ambition is so different to what the players expected when they signed a contract here.
“But this is a fight until the last game – and I will fight.”