Robbie Neilson today revealed winning the Scottish Championship title in his debut season in management would surpass anything he achieved as a player.
The Hearts head coach has steered the club to the brink of promotion and victory at the Falkirk Stadium this afternoon, coupled with Hibs failing to beat Rangers at Easter Road tomorrow, will secure the Tynecastle club’s return to the top flight as league champions.
Neilson’s own playing career spanned over 14 years and includes a Scottish Cup winners’ medal with the Jambos in 2006, a solitary cap for Scotland against Ukraine in a European qualifier the same year and a two-year stint south of the border with Leicester City, but he believes earning promotion at the first time of asking would top the lot.
“It’s great to take a team and help guys fulfil their potential and make them winners,” Neilson explained. “There’s a lot of guys go throughout their football careers without winning anything, especially not winning the league.
“Teams will always win cups and go four or five games on the trot, but to win a league you need to go through 36 games, so it’s a sustained effort right through the whole season. It will be nice to see the guys’ faces when we win it.”
Meanwhile, Neilson stressed he is keen to negotiate with players and their respective agents as soon as possible in preparation for life back in the Scottish Premiership.
“Once the budget is cemented we’ll talk right away,” he said. “We’ll get their agents in when we can get them in. But to be honest, I’m pretty sure they’ll be the ones making the move to come in and get things sorted with us. A lot of the guys came in this season and saw the potential of the club, saw the opportunity to win something, but are on low salaries. I think a lot of people would be surprised at the money some of these guys are on having played at top-level clubs or leagues.
“But, at the same time, we need to make sure if we are keeping these guys then we’re not breaking the budget.”
Hearts don’t need reminding of the threat Falkirk pose as Peter Houston’s outfit are the only side to inflict defeat on the Gorgie men this season, a 3-2 victory at Tynecastle in January ending the club’s 22-match undefeated run in the Championship.
However, Neilson believes defeat that day helped alleviate the pressure that had been building on his players to go through the entire campaign without defeat.
“In hindsight it probably helped us as it took that pressure off us because I felt in the weeks building up to that game, there was a tension in the team.
“Every time we spoke to the press or the fans, all the talk was about whether we could go the season unbeaten so it was a good thing, although you never like to lose, that it took that pressure away. It gave us all a wee bit of a wake-up call,” Neilson added.