Whether Steven Pressley, Paul Hartley, Dougie Freedman or AN Other is named head coach of Hearts, their ability to gain the trust of owner Ann Budge will be critical to their success.
All of the above are in contention to replace Ian Cathro at Tynecastle and Budge will have the final say on the appointment.
She wants an experienced and knowledgeable figurehead to manage first-team matters and isn’t prepared to gamble. Director of football Craig Levein previously had authority to appoint Robbie Neilson and then Cathro, both untried young coaches when they took charge. Neilson was a success but Cathro lost his job at the start of the month after only eight wins in 30 matches.
Budge now wants to put a leader in place who can motivate players, captivate media and, most importantly, garner results on the field. She wants a man she and the board can trust, with a realistic approach to finances and a strong personality.
Whoever she chooses must also have the ability and desire to co-operate with the person in overall charge.
Former Hearts chairman Leslie Deans knows the importance of the understanding between club figurehead and first-team figurehead. “The rapport between manager and chairman/owner/chief executive needs to be strong. If that goes, it undermines a lot of other things at the club. It’s important for Ann and for the whole club to get that right on this occasion,” he told the Evening News.
“The most important relationship inside a football club is the one between owner and manager. It’s the axis on which the club revolves. Having an experienced man at the helm, who enjoys a good relationship with the board, is essential. That’s as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.
“There was a trust between myself and Jim Jefferies when I was chairman of Hearts and I like to think that trust helped the club. I think the limited success we were able to achieve in the late 1990s was down to that link and rapport between manager and chairman. It was a very strong one and is spread through the club.”
With former England manager Steve McClaren no longer in the running for the Hearts job, the case for other contenders strengthens. Former Scotland striker Freedman has managed Crystal Palace, Bolton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest in England and earned himself a solid reputation in the process.
Pressley may not be too popular with a section of fans who still haven’t forgiven him since his return to Tynecastle as a Celtic player more than ten years ago. However, there is no questioning his knowledge of Hearts and Scottish football. Nor is there any doubt about the former club captain’s leadership qualities.
Hartley made a huge success of previous jobs at Alloa and, initially, Dundee. He was sacked at Dens Park in April this year after a poor run of results, but is productive strikeforce of Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart had been sold just as the season started.
All three are now serious contenders to replace Cathro. “I didn’t know Ian Cathro personally. I’ve heard lots of good things about the guy’s coaching abilities and, like everybody, I was genuinely sorry that it didn’t work out,” continued Deans.
“I would be delighted if the club bring in an experienced manager. I believe that’s exactly what we need. It’s far less of a risk than taking on somebody who is a rookie. I’ve heard the names being bandied around – Steve McClaren and Michael O’Neill to name but two.
“I think this is the way forward. It would unite the fans. The club has a lot of good things about it at the present time. The board are reconstructing the stadium, the fans have bought around 14,000 season tickets and are showing their support.
“We have an awful lot of positives so the right man to unite the fans, the club and the players is important. We need someone to get the best out of people. In some cases, players perhaps haven’t been performing as well as they could have given their talent and ability.
“I sincerely hope we get the right man for the job and, as I said, I believe experience is an absolute pre-requisite. It’s a key appointment for the club because the right manager creates the feel of the club. He creates the balance for moving forward.”
Supporters, including Deans, are waiting with baited breath to see who is given the task. Hearts are expected to continue with Under-20 coach Jon Daly in temporary charge for this weekend’s trip to Ibrox. The new appointment could then be announced the following week – a decision which will be key to the Edinburgh club’s fortunes for the remainder of the season.
“The wrong appointment would concern us all greatly,” said Deans. “Fans have been magnificent, buying season tickets and pumping money into their club through Foundation of Hearts. However, fans won’t put up with failure forever and a day.
“People will drift off if the club is not going in the right direction. I’m old enough to remember back to the days of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Hearts were a yo-yo club at that time and attendances were regularly down to 6000, 7000 and 8000. We certainly don’t want to see a return to those days.
“Hearts are in a good place in many respects but we cannot be blasé and assume success will just happen. We’ve got to give the fans what they want, and that’s a winning team.”
Success, of course, is much easier to come by if there is genuine harmony between dugout and boardroom.