Ann won’t Budge on her plan to mend Hearts

Ann Budge has handed football matters to Craig Levein, centre, and Robbie Neilson
Ann Budge has handed football matters to Craig Levein, centre, and Robbie Neilson
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ANN BUDGE freely admits she knows nothing about running a football club and that she was shocked by the state of Hearts internally when she took charge.

However, the club’s new majority shareholder stressed she is determined to avoid the mistakes made by Rangers following their administration.

Hearts dispensed with their management team of Gary Locke, Billy Brown and goalkeeping coach Alan Combe on Monday as Budge took charge at Tynecastle and appointed Craig Levein director of football. Senior players Jamie MacDonald, Ryan Stevenson, Jamie Hamill and Dylan McGowan were released, along with Mark Ridgers and Callum Tapping.

Budge remains totally convinced by Levein’s model for running the club and said she has learned lessons from the financial problems at Rangers. Having been liquidated in 2012, the Ibrox club posted losses of over £14million for the last year due to excessive spending.

Levein’s plan is to educate coaches within the Riccarton academy and help elevate some to senior level, thus ending the days of paying managers off regularly. Robbie Neilson has been promoted from under-20 coach to head coach of the first team.

“That [Rangers situation] probably does confirm there is another way of doing it and it’s got to be better, in my view,” explained Budge. “I’ve always tried to look at this as a business. This is developmental. We’re in a difficult position and we know where we want to get to. We want to remove this business of managers disappearing and somebody else comes in and it’s ‘start again’. I don’t believe in that.

“The secret to success in any business is have a very strong culture and management team and all know where we want to get to. If somebody leaves, it’s unfortunate but we know where we’re going and it’s much easier to fill that gap.

“To be honest, I was shocked [at the state of Hearts]. There was a good atmosphere in a sense but when you spoke to the individual heads of departments, it was very clear that the lack of leadership had taken its toll. Not everybody was pulling in exactly the same direction.”

Budge revealed her reasons for giving Levein full autonomy for the football side at Riccarton. “I’d spoken with a number of people in football because, as I’ve said before, I know nothing about running a football club.

“I met with Craig and we talked about what could be done. I’m a bit of a planner and I believe in having a clear strategy. That’s what appealed to me about what Craig was saying. We talked about the plans rather than the individuals for a long time. I decided I really liked the idea of a director of football. I discussed it with people now on the board. After that, we said ‘if we give you the job, how would you see it shaping up?’ I will only promise on the business side of things. I will ask Craig to comment on football. My focus is to fix some of the business problems, get a really strong business and football set-up and who knows? The sky’s the limit.”

As a season-ticket holder in Tynecastle’s Wheatfield Stand, Budge experienced every high and low under her predecessor, Vladimir Romanov. Ultimately, she feels his tenure will not be looked upon favourably as Hearts almost collapsed under more than £25million of debt.

“As a supporter you want your club to be successful. Was it worth killing the club? Absolutely not and we will never do it again. Never say never perhaps, but not while I am running the club. Was it worth being successful? Yes, it was. It is great being a supporter and enjoying these successes. Was it the right thing to do if it was going to kill the club? Absolutely not.

“I have read people make very negative remarks and have also heard that if he [Romanov] hadn’t come in when he did we would have had lots of problems years ago. But how will he be remembered? Not very fondly I don’t think. Not by the majority of people.”