Hibs manager Neil Lennon is astounded that some Hearts supporters are happy to see the back of Robbie Neilson and believes that the MK Dons-bound head coach leaves big shoes to fill.
Despite a largely fruitful two-and-a-half years in which he led the Tynecastle side from the Championship to second in the Premiership, the 36-year-old became the subject of growing disenchantment among some sections of the support, with the Scottish Cup defeat by Hibs in February remaining a particular bone of contention among his critics.
However, Lennon can’t understand how anyone could view Neilson’s reign at Tynecastle in a negative light.
“Robbie has done a very good job at Hearts. What more could he do? The Scottish Cup loss was just one game and you have to look at the two-and-a-half years that went before.
“He got them promoted from the Championship, they finished third last season and they are second in the Premiership right now. That is pretty impressive.
“Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Robbie was stable at Hearts. There is only one dominant team in Scotland and that is Celtic and the rest are going to be inconsistent at times. Hearts have been very impressive under Robbie and why that has divided opinion, I don’t know.”
Lennon, who had a chastening experience managing Bolton Wanderers in both the English Championship and League One prior to arriving at Hibs, admits he can see why Neilson has decided to leave the stability of life at Hearts to test himself with MK Dons, currently threatened by relegation from League One.
“There are pros and cons,” he said. “The last manager, Karl Robinson, who I know very well, was there for six years which is a lifetime in the modern game, so you’d like to think he’s going into a stable environment. Like everything else, though, it’s a results-driven business.
“I think the league position belies the quality they have in the squad, so he’ll inherit a decent squad for that level having come down from the league above.
“They get good crowds as well, but the flip side of that is he sees Hearts playing well against Rangers in front of 17,000 people, so then you’ve got to consider ‘why would you give that up?’ The only person who can answer that would be Robbie, depending on his own ambitions.
“Maybe he wants a crack at England and sees this as his opportunity. There’s a danger there because there’s a risk in every move you make. There’s a familiarity he has with Hearts, that he won’t have at MK Dons, so he’ll have to get used to that. He’s still young but ultimately the difference between Scotland and England is money. People ask why MK Dons can attract a manager going very well at the top of the league in Scotland. It’s because, even in League One, they can pay a lot more money than Scottish clubs. I’m not saying that’s the sole reason he’s going but it’s an incentive.”
Lennon explained that managing a team through a 46-game league campaign will be a test for Neilson. “What he will have to get used to is the brutality of it all,” he said. “It is relentless as it is a 46-game season and you are playing Saturday and Tuesday every week. He will have to manage his squad as best he can and use the market as best he can in January.
“I am sure there will be money available for him in January as they will be one of the more stable clubs in that division. Good luck to him.”