Hearts boss Craig Levein insists he never meddled with first-team affairs as director of football


Craig Levein has spent the majority of his adult life as a Hearts employee.

But the Tynecastle club’s new manager insists only now will he be doing two jobs at once.

The 52-year-old is adamant he never interfered with first-team matters while director of football.

As of last week Levein will fill both roles having taken over from sacked Ian Cathro in the dugout.

Accusations were constantly levelled at him while Robbie Neilson was in charge and even when Jon Daly was interim gaffer.

But Levein insists he let the head coach get on with their job without meddling from him.

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Levein insists he never undermined ex-boss Ian Cathro

He said: “The feeling of missing being in the dugout has come and gone for me in the last few years. It was difficult at first.

“But I knew Robbie really well and from the beginning he was his own man. It was my first time as a DoF and his as head coach.

“Getting the relationship right was critical but we managed to do it. At first he would ask me a lot for advice but through time it was less and less. I was still in manager mode at times but I then tried to take a few steps away from it. I didn’t want to interfere, I tried my hardest.

“I didn’t interfere but people don’t believe that. I actually got a lot of pleasure from watching Robbie fix stuff and Ian fixed things at times too.”

The former Scotland boss is synonymous with Tynecastle having been a player, manager and director of football.

He has experienced highs and lows in Gorgie as changes in ownership off the pitch have resulted in fluctuating results.

Ann Budge is targeting European football for Hearts next season

But Levein is convinced that with Ann Budge at the helm and the structure he has helped put in place, the club has never been in better shape. That’s why he’s determined to steer them back into Europe this season.

Levein said: “It has been 13 years since I left as manager and in that time this club has been on the biggest roller coaster ever.

“I joined Hearts in 1983 as a player so I’ve spent most of my adult life working at this club, which is bizarre to think about.

“But something about this place makes me feel happy. And it’s now as healthy as it has ever been. If you think back to the Wallace Mercer era, we had a ban on signing players because we didn’t pay Dundee United
for a transfer. Then suddenly we were going to be signing Mario Kempes at one point!

“Wallace was larger than life but the club didn’t have the money people thought it did. I came back during the Chris Robinson era when we spent all the money from our SMG deal.

“Everyone was spending money, everyone was borrowing and we were £13million in debt. I thought it was impossible to get into any more debt – then Mr Vladimir Romanov arrived. And it just shot up again.

Levein was boss under former owner Vladimir Romanov

“Without doubt, under Ann’s stewardship this place is run so well now. So much money has been invested in infrastructure around the stadium – the
memorial garden, the museum, replacing seats, building the new main stand. On top of that, more than £1million has gone into youth development. And there are a lot of good people in place.

“So perhaps that’s what got me thinking I could do something else here. I just love this club. It’s a hard place to work at times when things aren’t going well.

“But that’s a character test. As a player you have to demand the ball under pressure.

“As a coach you have to stand there with everything going on and come up with solutions to problems. I miss that feeling of excitement and dread. And I don’t know what order that’s in.”

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Budge wants Hearts to finish in the top four, which would mean Europa League qualification.

That’s against a backdrop of having to play their next three home games at Murrayfield before returning to Tynecastle.

His first game will be against Aberdeen and Levein said: “I’ve managed Hearts at Murrayfield before – against Braga in the UEFA Cup – but I’m still thinking about it as an away venue.

“We’ll need to play a certain type of football to get us to a point where we’re playing at Tynecastle again.

“I make no apologies, we’ll need to be difficult to beat before we get back home. Aberdeen are definitely the benchmark.

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“I’m a great admirer of Derek McInnes. I like him, Del’s a good guy. He was one of the first ones to text me and say it was good to see me back. Hearts need stability. Aberdeen have that and we’re searching for it. We’ll get there.

“We’ve spent a lot of money and time building up the academy to get into a situation where we can feed three or four players a season into the first team.

“That would be a brilliant place to be. That’s the bigger picture. But it would be great to be back in Europe.

“Some of the European games I was involved in as a player and manager here were brilliant. I loved that stage, coming up with a way of playing that
allows you to be compact but also have a goal threat.

“One of the reasons I wanted to get back was that feeling of being involved in big games. Being at Tynecastle for European games, Hibs games, Old Firm games. That’s all part of it.”

Levein is vastly experienced having also managed Dundee United and Leicester as well as three years as Scotland boss.

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And he believes if Hearts or any other Scottish side is going to be successful in Europe they’ll have to change their approach in light of the “frantic pace” games are played here at home.

He said: “We played teams in Europe last year and I couldn’t work out why we struggled, whether it was because we weren’t up to speed or whether it was the players.

“I found as a player in European competition that you didn’t need to go charging forward. Everything is done slower so you have to wait for the opponent to make a mistake.

“That doesn’t happen in Scotland. We don’t play that way so it’s difficult. Celtic will do well because they play a different style to everyone else. Maybe Rangers can as well.

“It gets easier the more you qualify. International players get more of it so they understand it better. Aberdeen might be getting to a place where they understand it now too but we aren’t there yet.”

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