Robbie Neilson and Craig Levein want six to seven new players for Hearts this summer, with Neilson stressing he will pick the team under the new management structure.
The head coach promised attack-minded football, with youth players featuring heavily, as he explained his coaching philosophy today.
Alongside director of football Levein, Neilson is engaged in plans to sign several players after being promoted from his role as under-20s coach. The new regime of Ann Budge and Levein released manager Gary Locke, assistant Billy Brown and goalkeeping coach Alan Combe on Monday, plus some of Hearts’ most experienced mainstays.
All positions require strengthening, but the main focus is to find a goalkeeper, a centre-back and a striker. The club hope to exit administration next month and then begin replenishing their squad.
“My philosphy is to win and win properly. It’s about young players,” said Neilson. “We have a fantastic crop of young players coming through. The academy is a huge part of our club and I’ll be looking to promote as many young players as quickly as we can, but we also need to bring in six or seven new players into the squad. It’s going to be a busy summer.”
Neilson claimed he will pick the team each week, although Levein revealed he will discuss team selection and tactics with the 33-year-old as a means of support. “I will pick the team,” said Neilson. “When Craig spoke to me on Sunday night [about replacing Locke] that was one of the questions I asked him, and he assured me I would pick the team.
“Head coach can mean coaching or running the team, so I had to understand what it was. My point of view is head coach has to pick team as I’m the guy there day to day in training. I see how the boys are doing, deal with their issues.
“I was under-20s coach but the majority of my work was at the academy and it was great. Even as head coach, I still feel the academy is my responsibility too. Over the years a division has grown between the professional side and the academy side. No-one really knew what the other was doing, so my job is to act as a bridge to get the club moving in the right direction.
“I’ve known Craig and worked for him for years and one of the first things I said to him was that he needed to support me and be there for me. I also spoke with Alex Smith (chairman of the Managers and Coaches’ association) on Monday and he was full of encouragement and said he’d meet me for coffee any time. Scottish football is full of good people.”
Players reared in the Riccarton youth academy will continue to play a prominent role under Neilson. He underlined the need to let kids develop at senior level over a long period of time. “I hope we can keep hold of young players who are here,” he continued. “Any club that develops young players must get 50 or 60 first-team games before we sell them as a first-team player, unless you get a ridiculous bid coming in.
“From age eight to 18 is ten years of development and to get one first-team game out of them and sell them for £100,000 doesn’t make sense. We don’t get any benefits from that as that is what it has cost to develop them, and neither do the fans.”
Former Dundee United youth coach Ian Cathro is a contender to join the coaching set-up. He is currently at Rio Ave in Portugal. “We need someone to help me and someone to take the under-20s,” explained Neilson. “I spoke to the players yesterday briefly to let them know what was happening. I told them what I expected from them, to work hard and be committed to help each other and be positive in what we’re doing.
“I’ve been working towards this point [becoming a head coach] for most of my playing career. I never possessed the best technique as a player so it was all about trying to understand positions and movements and I wanted to take that into coaching. Only time will tell if this has come too early but Craig is there to support me and Ann is also fantastic, very progressive.”
Neilson spoke with Locke at Riccarton early yesterday morning to clear up any suggestion that he had known of Levein’s plans earlier. “I wanted to speak to him and let him know the situation. Gary is a good guy, we get on well and we’ve known each other for years. It was a difficult situation for me as well on Monday, although not to the same extent as Gary. I feel deeply for Alan, Billy and Gary and then I was asked to take over. It should be a time of excitement, but it is difficult, you’ve got to balance it off.”