Craig Levein: My time at Hearts is not up because I have not lost dressing-room
Craig Levein insists he doesn’t feel his time at Hearts is up because he is adamant he has a strong squad of players who are fully behind him and ready to ignite.
The manager has come under heavy criticism following a lengthy period of poor form which has culminated in the team slipping to the foot of the Scottish Premiership table after no wins in the opening five games of the current campaign.
Levein was given a public vote of confidence from owner Ann Budge on Wednesday but many supporters remain baffled that she can see a positive future for Hearts under his guidance given the fact he has presided over just four league wins in 2019.
“This is quite simple,” said Levein, when asked at what point it would be time to leave his position as manager. “If I don’t think I can have an influence on these players that helps them win matches then I’m wasting my time and everyone else’s time. I felt that at Leicester at the moment I left, I felt the window had closed, I felt I couldn’t do any more with the players. I didn’t feel there was a connection, I didn’t feel I could influence the way they played. That’s a different thing altogether. That’s not what I feel here. I have good connections with the players, my job right now is to help them get over this little mini-hurdle.”
When it was put to Levein that a hypothetical Premiership table dated from October 28 last year would have Hearts bottom of the league, Levein insisted that his current squad of players should be judged on this season alone. “So we’re introducing hypothetical tables?” he said. “From my point of view, looking at last season and this season are two different things. We have changed players, we have started again. I think we have a better squad than we did last year. At this minute in time the league table doesn’t tell you that and I accept that. If we hadn’t given away five goals this season we’d be sitting third. That’s a hypothetical table as well. So that doesn’t really mean anything. All I can do is focus on now, what’s happened in the past is in the past.”
Hearts have won none of their past 12 league games, a run stretching back to March, and have won only four of their 22 Premiership games this calendar year. Levein’s critics have pointed out that his recent record is worse than that of Ian Cathro, who lost his job after five wins in the 22 league matches of his entire reign. For balance, it must be noted that the previous head coach hadn’t reached a Scottish Cup final, had provided no previous evidence that he could have the team riding high at the top of the league (as Levein did in the first three months of last term), and was axed after Betfred Cup group-stage elimination. Levein declined to be drawn on the comparison with Cathro. “Again, I can’t comment on anything on Ian, that was part of the agreement when he left the club, so I can’t speak about that,” he said.
Reacting to the fact Budge had issued a statement backing him this week, Levein said: “Ann does her own thing and, contrary to what people think, I don’t have any influence on that. We talk every day or every second day, depending on circumstances, just to keep her up to speed. I don’t think there is once in the past five years I have known her when she has had a knee-jerk reaction to anything, so it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest and my big thing now is to show that her faith in me, the players and backroom staff was justified.”
Reflecting on the protest outside Tynecastle last weekend, Levein said: “People voice their pleasure in different ways. Some choose to stand outside the ground and shout after games. Others go home and are just grumpy for the rest of the night. Maybe they write something online. But, being out and about in Edinburgh, being at reserve and academy games, I can honestly say I’ve not had a negative comment.
“All I’ve had is people telling me to keep digging in and they’ll support the team. That encourages me much more than the negativity gets me down.
“I know where we are, I understand the problems – my job is to fix them. If I can get us climbing the table, which I think I’m more than capable of doing, then even the ones who have been outside the stadium after the games – I’m not saying they’ll be happy, but they’ll certainly keep their anger for another day. I need to fix the football thing to allow the rest to calm down.
“Eventually, results determine everything. That’s the way it works.
“I think the moment we’re at, in my mind, is we’ve had a couple of topsy-turvy years.
“We had a poor end to last season but my view on that is fairly simple. Once we secured top six, the cup final was the only thing that really made any difference. We start again this season. Now, this season has started slowly.
“I had hoped we wouldn’t be talking about injuries again. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. The good thing is we have a better squad than last season, when we got hit by injuries, so that makes me feel much more relaxed about that situation.”
Asked if his current predicament was causing him sleepless nights, Levein said: “Of course. For me, there’s personal pride – I’m in charge of the team and we’re sitting at the bottom of the league. That’s the biggest worry that I have, trying to improve our situation to climb the table. My view is that this group of players are more than capable of doing that. The first thing we need to do is cut out silly mistakes. I think five goals this season, we’ve wrapped up and handed to the opposition. If we stop that, and that’s one thing I can have an influence on, it gives us a far better chance of winning games.”