Hearts' Craig Levein: I'm right to question referees '“ but it's nothing personal

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Hearts manager Craig Levein insists he is right to question officials making mistakes '“ but stressed it is nothing personal against Bobby Madden.

He branded the performance of referee Madden “abysmal” on Sunday as goals by Connor Goldson and Alfredo Morelos gave Rangers a 2-1 victory at Tynecastle Park. Replays showed Morelos’ winner was offside.

Levein said he felt like Hearts were playing against 13 men after losing to the disputed goal. He added that similar comments by the Hibs manager Neil Lennon went unpunished recently, so he did not expect to be charged by the Scottish Football Association. He also stated that Morelos could have been sent off for several yellow-card offences during the game, although Madden did dismiss Scott Arfield for a reckless lunge at the Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal.

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The manager took umbrage at comments from former referee Steve Conroy claiming he was guilty of a personal attack on Madden. “Personal attacks? I criticised someone’s performance. Some people are a bit thin-skinned, eh?” retorted Levein.

Hearts manager Craig Levein addresses the media. Pic: SNSHearts manager Craig Levein addresses the media. Pic: SNS
Hearts manager Craig Levein addresses the media. Pic: SNS

“For me, personal attacks are having a go at somebody’s character. I’ve never, ever questioned anything about Bobby’s character. In fact, he’s a great guy. As much as I can be critical about my players and can be critical about myself, on a performance like that, I’m entitled to have my say.

“I’ve been critical myself, two or three weeks ago, for the team I put out. And I’m honest, you know? It was a really poor performance. And see this ‘personal’ stuff? That’s a nonsense. It’s a nonsense.

“I actually get angry at that because that’s trying to make it appear something that it’s not. This is about Sunday’s performance, nothing else.

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“I don’t know why people are getting involved – particularly if they’re talking a lot of rubbish. I think somebody needs to go back to school and understand what a personal attack is, as compared to talking about performance.

“I like Bobby Madden. I think he’s a decent fella. This is not personal and I detest people getting involved in something when they’re just trying to stir it. They should keep their noses out.

“Only I know what I think of Bobby Madden, nobody else does. I’m telling you now I think he’s a decent guy. But his performance wasn’t good enough on Sunday and his assistant’s performance wasn’t good enough.”

Levein complained that Morelos and Goldson’s goal celebrations in front of Hearts supporters were inflammatory. After fan trouble at October’s Edinburgh derby, he felt the officials should have acted instantly.

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“I told the fourth official about it and said: ‘You can’t let them do that.’ Particularly after what has happened here recently. I was told they would have a word with them,” said Levein.

“I see players being booked for that all the time so I don’t understand why it wasn’t a yellow card on Sunday. It should be a booking for inciting the fans. Combine that with the way he [Morelos] was jumping into Christophe [Berra], and he’s off the park. I don’t understand it. I really don’t.”

Hearts will no longer try to seek explanations from the SFA’s head of refereeing, John Fleming, however. “I’m finished. The way I look at it, what’s the point?” said Levein.

“If we want to foster better relationships between managers and referees, let’s be open and talk about it. Everything is covered in this secrecy. We can’t speak about this and we can’t speak about that. What other business does this? I mean, it’s a joke.

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“People can’t be free from criticism. There has to be accountability. For you to be good at your job you have to make mistakes, you have to accept that you’ve made mistakes and you have to learn from them.

“That’s the only way to improve. How are we not allowed to talk about officials making mistakes? As long as that continues then nothing gets better.”

Asked if he would challenge any attempts by the SFA to sanction him for his comments, Levein replied: “I’ll be very surprised if there are because all I said was exactly the same as what Neil [Lennon] did. Would I fight any punishment? I’m sure I would.”