Hearts boss prospers as whole coaching team pitches in

Craig Levein and Robbie Neilson remain in constant dialogue
Craig Levein and Robbie Neilson remain in constant dialogue
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Director of football Craig Levein is in constant dialogue with Hearts coaching staff aimed at ensuring the club is focused on its goals and operating at its maximum efficiency.

The former Scotland manager was recruited by new owner Ann Budge to oversee the rebuilding of the club’s infrastructure following its exit from administration at the end of last season.

Robbie Neilson, appointed head coach in May, gave a brief insight into the dynamic of his relationship with Levein and how the director of football goes about his business at Riccarton.

“The relationship between Craig and myself has been great for me,” said Neilson. “Craig oversees the whole football department of the club. I take care of the first team. Jack Ross looks after the Under-20s and all the other boys who are full-time below the first team.

“Roger Arnott takes care of the whole academy and Paul Thomson does the junior academy. We all have different roles and remits to work on and we spend a lot of time in the afternoon and evenings speaking about the direction of the club.

“Craig’s role is directing the whole philosophy of the club and he comes to speak to me and asks me why we are doing certain things.

“That is good because it gives me the opportunity to develop as a coach, as we have to be doing things for a purpose and Craig asks me why we are doing things.

“We had a meeting this week for four hours and we discussed what we wanted from the academy and what we were going to do player and recruitment-wise. It is great to be involved in that.

“There is definitely a long-term goal for the club that the academy will be the main aspect of Hearts and by that we mean we will develop young guys and bring them through the ranks.”

Purpose seems to be the buzzword at Riccarton, with Hearts’ management endeavouring to ensure there is a particular focus to everything they do.

“We do the same with the players – we have a meeting every day with them and show them a video of why we are going to do this or that at training,” Neilson continued. “It is important that we work towards something every minute we are out there.”

With development of young players high on the priority list at Hearts, the club are looking to send out some more of their academy prospects on loan.

As a young Hearts player Neilson benefitted from stints at both Cowdenbeath and Queen of the South and he is keen to ensure the current youngsters get the chance to go out and sample life in a more humbling environment. “It was a good learning curve for me,” Neilson said of his own loan spells. “We sent a couple of boys out in the summer, Gary Oliver is at Stenhousemuir and Liam Smith is at East Fife.

“Jack Hamilton was at Stenny too [before being recalled] and we hope to get a few more out. It’s a great experience for them, playing competitive games that mean something.

“They also see how good they have it at Hearts. You maybe don’t realise sometimes until you go out and see what it’s like – training environments, training, the kit you get. Sometimes you get spoiled a wee bit when you’re here and it’s good for the players to see that. It also gives them confidence if they go there and do well.”

Hearts host Cowdenbeath today, with their lead at the top of the Championship having been trimmed to just a point by Rangers, who look to have found some form in recent weeks. Neilson is adamant he is unfazed by anything the Ibrox side do.

“If we keep winning games we will win the league,” he said. “I never look at who Rangers are playing it doesn’t bother me. We can only deal with our next game and there is no point in looking at Rangers.

“If Rangers win a game, so be it, Hearts can’t influence that at all. I don’t sit during the week and wonder what Rangers are doing. We can only focus on Cowdenbeath. There is no issue about where Rangers are in the league or who is beside us in the table.”