Austin MacPhee interview: Hearts' interim manager reveals his philosophy and why it will appeal to fans in the pub
The man in temporary charge wants Tynecastle team to score goals and attack
Jetting out of Edinburgh for Belfast on Monday, Austin MacPhee may well have gazed pensively out the plane window as Riccarton passed below. Hearts’ interim manager roused the team into a much-needed 5-2 win against St Mirren at the weekend, but he does not return to club duty until a week on Wednesday.
Assisting Northern Ireland against Netherlands and Germany takes precedence meantime. The short flight across the Irish Sea offered sufficient time to reflect on Saturday’s work at Tynecastle Park.
There was enough evidence to understand how MacPhee wants Hearts to play during his tenure, however temporary it may be. As the club methodically search for Craig Levein’s permanent replacement, his assistant may still be in charge at Kilmarnock a week on Saturday trying to harness a desire to attack and score goals. That approach has been missing for too long.
MacPhee would much rather win 5-0 than 5-2, make no mistake. Hearts’ perilous league position has little time for such pernickety complaints, though. Winning is all that matters. Had Saturday’s score been 5-4, MacPhee would have been content that the stated aim was achieved against opponents with whom Hearts sat joint-bottom of the Premiership at kick-off.
“I think we have the capacity to score a lot of goals with the players we have,” he told the Evening News. “It’s very hard to do both things, especially when you don’t have a lot of confidence. On Saturday, we scored three goals in the league for the first time in 13 months, and five goals in the league for the first time since August 2016. If we just have the objective of scoring a lot of goals, we might lose a couple.”
He is appropriately mindful of the ordinary Joe supporter; the beer-supping fan in the local tavern round the corner who pays his hard-earned cash to be entertained at Tynecastle on a Saturday afternoon. MacPhee’s philosophy is to get forward and, put simply, outscore the opposition.
“The supporters who have been in the pub since 12 o’clock and get into the ground at quarter to three, they want to see that. Especially at Tynecastle, where the pitch is smaller and you can get around it quicker. It’s how I want to watch football,” he explained.
“For a club with resources in the top four in Scotland, we should be on the front foot. If we lose a couple, let’s score more. I believe there are a lot of goals in the team so I might be less worried about losing a couple, as long as I fill the players with belief and objectives to score as many as they can. That has been an important part in the last week, working on attacking play.
“I want a team that I want to watch. It might not work all the time but the players looked like they knew what the gameplan was. They carried it out with aplomb and I can only thank them for their efforts over the last week. Sometimes when there is an interim manager, there is a void in authority. I don’t think the players played like there was a void in authority.”
MacPhee also likes to add a touch of dry humour to proceedings. His post-match press conference on Saturday evening referenced his decision to play Hearts’ giant striker Uche Ikpeazu on the right flank. “I played Uche a little bit out of position but then we knew where he was on the pitch, which was always a nice thing. In the next few days, weeks or months, maybe I can turn him into John Colquhoun or Neil McCann.”
There is no joking on is his own future. He is expected to remain at Riccarton after Hearts’ restructure but it is unclear whether he will stay as an assistant, as the new manager or even as sporting director. “There will be a conversation in time about my future. The most important thing just now is that the club follows this win up with a similarly good performance at Kilmarnock and climb the league.
“When things are more defined, we will be able to see what options there are. The most important for the club is the next stage, which should lead to consistent Europa League football. I believe whoever gets these jobs should be held accountable to that.
"There is a review of where we are and then a recruitment process for a sporting director and a recruitment process for a head coach. I don't think that can happen thoroughly enough in two weeks. Hopefully the supporters saw on Saturday that, if I have a week with the team, I can get them on the front foot, full of energy and attacking.
"In the interim period, if the team does that and wins games, it allows people making decisions on the future of the club a little bit more time. In my experience, when you have a bit more time, you make better decisions. Right now, I feel that's my role - to steady the ship a little bit, make sure the team is on the front foot, attacking and going up the league."