John Robertson beat Paul Sheerin, Maurice Malpas and Gary Holt to the Inverness manager’s job but admits he would have refused the offer had the Highlanders not matched the ambition of Hearts owner Ann Budge.
Caledonian Thistle directors reappointed 52-year-old Robertson – who left to take charge at Hearts in 2004 – after interviewing several other candidates. Last season’s assistant manager Malpas was in the frame alongside ex-Falkirk manager Holt and the Aberdeen youth coach Sheerin.
Robertson was plucked from ambassador and youth coaching roles at Hearts as the man to lead Inverness back to the Ladbrokes Premiership. He succeeds Richie Foran following last month’s relegation. The Edinburgh club’s record league goalscorer explained that he would not have taken the job had his new board failed to show the same drive as those at Tynecastle.
“There has to be a positive vibe. I want the club back in the Premiership, I want them to come and visit the new Tynecastle, Easter Road, Ibrox and Parkhead. That is the main focus,” said Robertson.
“There was a positivity from the board and a drive and determination from them that we can make it work. If they hadn’t shown the ambition I’ve seen at Tynecastle from Ann Budge, from Scot Gardiner, from Craig Levein, from Robbie [Neilson] and Ian Cathro, then there’s no way I would be leaving. They [Inverness] have shown an energy and a positivity and I look forward to taking that challenge on.”
It was Robertson who guided the Highlanders into Scotland’s top flight for the first time in their history 13 years ago. They felt it was time to bring him ‘home’.
“It was strange because I didn’t apply for the job,” he told the Hearts website. “The first I knew about it was when I was told by Hearts that Inverness had made an approach directly. I met with the Inverness board and we had a very positive discussion. I told the truth about what I thought, how I could help them, what I could bring to them, what was required. Obviously there are other candidates involved as well, who I imagine would’ve given similar reasons why they were the people for the job.
“I was asked again earlier this week to go back and have a chat with the chairman and vice-chairman, when they formally offered me the job. It was one of the strangest feelings. I’m absolutely delighted and really looking forward to this positive start again with Inverness, trying to take them back to where I believe they should be – in the Premiership. It isn’t going to be easy because it’s easier to stay in the Premiership than get out of the Championship. They’ve got a good squad of players. I’m going to have to be creative, wheel and deal and get some more quality in to add to the squad.
“It’s going to be a positive approach, it’s going to be good, attacking football, get the ball down and play. I’ll ask the players to go and entertain the fans and show what they’re all about, but with a good discipline and organisation to back that up. It’s got the juices flowing again. It’ll be tinged with a little bit of sadness that I’ll be leaving this great club.”
Robertson urged Hearts fans to keep faith with Budge, Levein and Cathro next season.
“Things haven’t been going well, we understand the frustration, but stick with us. The club is going to go from strength to strength. Last year was a difficult year. We had to change coaches mid-season, which is not ideal. Ian is a young, vibrant coach. He’s got lots of good ideas, he’s very positive and he understands he needs to get results. He will get results.
“There’s a strong recruitment drive this year and I still see massive positivity from this club. We finished fifth last year and that’s deemed a poor season for us, and it is. When you’re involved with Hearts, you should expect to be challenging in the top four for Europe every single year. We should be challenging in the cups every single year. Trust me, that’s what everybody at the club, from the director of football, to the coaches, the manager, the players, that’s what they want to give. They will give that. With the continued backing of the one main constant of this football club - the fans – that will happen.”