Hearts hero Colin Cameron believes Ann Budge’s first move when she gets the keys to Tynecastle should be to confirm Gary Locke as manager for next season.
The Edinburgh IT tycoon is on the brink of taking control of her beloved Jambos after a major breakthrough in Lithuania yesterday when Ukio Bankas’ creditors agreed to transfer their 29.9 per cent shareholding in Hearts to BIDCO 1874, the vehicle set up to take the club out of administration.
It was the last major obstacle in the club’s prolonged bid to emerge from administration and means that, barring any unlikely hitches, Budge, who has been working diligently in the background to survey all aspects of the club as she prepares for her takeover, could be calling the shots as early as next month.
While there is plenty for the prospective new Queen of Hearts to ponder, one of the most pressing decisions she will have to make surrounds who will take charge of the team for their tilt at promotion from next season’s Championship, with current boss Locke’s contract due to expire at the end of this season.
The Hearts manager has had to come through a formidable first year in charge, in which the fallout from administration left him to battle a 15-point penalty with a team predominantly made up of young, unproven players. A signing embargo meant there was no scope to add to his threadbare squad.
While Hearts’ bid to stay in the top flight predictably fell short, Cameron, a Scottish Cup winner with the Jambos in 1998, has seen enough from Locke so far to be convinced that he merits a proper chance of managing in more favourable circumstances as the club embarks on a fresh chapter under Budge next season.
“I’d be well in favour of Gary staying in charge,” Cameron told the Evening News. “I think he’s the right man for the job. It’s been a hell of a first job for him with all he’s had to deal with but he’s shown a lot of maturity.
“It’s actually surprising how well he’s dealt with it considering how young he is in management terms. I think he’s got to be given the opportunity to put his own stamp on the team because obviously this season he’s been restricted. He needs to be given at least next season to bring in his own players and get the team playing the way he wants.”
Former Hearts, Dundee United and Scotland manager Craig Levein, a close confidant to Budge, has been linked with a return to the Tynecastle hotseat, with some fans feeling their team may need a more experienced man at the helm to negotiate the hazards of the Championship. However, Cameron, who has managed in the second tier with Cowdenbeath, believes that Locke’s familiarity with the players and the fact he has overseen a notable improvement in his young squad over the course of the season should count for plenty when the chairwoman-in-waiting makes her big call in the coming months.
“There’s no guarantee that an experienced manager would take Hearts straight back up next season,” he said. “The important thing for Gary is that he’s got the respect of the players. That’s a massive thing. The young boys need a bit of stability at this stage in their careers so it’s important that Gary remains in charge.
“They’ve put together a decent run of late but, if I’m being honest, I always thought they were going to get relegated because 15 points in that division is a lot to try to claw back on anybody, especially when you’re having to field more or less a team full of youngsters week in, week out. I think Gary’s done as well as he possibly could have in the circumstances and I would definitely urge the new owner to show faith in him and keep him on as manager.”
Cameron, who spent five years at Tynecastle between 1996 and 2001, was relieved at yesterday’s developments in Lithuania. “It’s fantastic news for Hearts,” he said. “It’s been a long, hard season for them but hopefully they can now start moving forward. It’s especially good for the fans because they’ve kept the club alive by constantly putting their hands in their pockets and supporting the team through a difficult time.
“Next season will be a big one for the club and hopefully for Gary. Hopefully, he is able to start bringing in players for the start of next season, which will be a big help. He’ll need players that know how to get out of the Championship. That’ll be really important because they’ll have a real challenge on next season. It’s no certainty that they’ll go straight back up but the main thing is that, as a club, they can start looking forward now.”