The emotions coursing through Craig Levein right now are what made the chance to manage Hearts again too good to refuse. At 52, this is his second time in charge of a team he cherishes deeply.
Thomas Flogel played under Levein during his first managerial spell at Tynecastle and knows exactly the feelings he is experiencing. Stepping forward from the relative comfort of the director of football’s office and into the dugout is not a decision Levein took lightly. Flogel has made the same step and is convinced his former gaffer will thrive back in the technical area.
Levein was appointed Hearts manager again yesterday, four weeks since Ian Cathro’s sacking and 13 years since his last game in charge of the Edinburgh club. Flogel previously enjoyed a sporting director role at FC Vienna in his native Austria but is now back on the training pitch coaching St Polten’s youth team. He is, according to Austrian media, close to promotion to the first team due to his rapid success.
Flogel expects Levein found himself facing much the same dilemma as him. Overseeing things as director of football is fine but the pull, buzz and excitement from first-team coaching and management is difficult to equal.
“Sometimes you need to step back and you get more hunger for the job again. You think you’re okay, you go away and then you come back with a new desire,” Flogel told the Evening News.
“It’s a good thing for Craig. When he believes in himself and the team, then he gets his hunger and desire to be a coach again. It’s one of the best jobs you can have. Craig Levein was a good player and a good gaffer. Now he has the hunger to coach again.
“You always want to stay involved when you’ve been a football player. You always want to be involved in the decisions about who is playing and everything. That feeling never goes away.
“It was the same for me. I tried a lot of things but the best thing for me is coaching. I want to be on the field. I want to be the man who helps the team and is a part of the team like the players. You are a piece of that jigsaw if you are coaching.
“You can’t run on the field but you are involved in the whole thing, more than if you are director of football or director of sport.”
The pre-match nerves aren’t the same when you’re sitting in the directors’ box. Nor is the joy derived from winning, or indeed the hurt of losing. Levein was persuaded by the Hearts board to accept the role as Cathro’s successor after a long deliberation period which involved interviews with several other candidates.
“It’s not going back, it’s just a different job,” said Flogel of Hearts’ decision to re-appoint the former Scotland manager. “I think it’s more emotional and probably more nerves are involved. It’s just very different but being the coach is something special.
“Every game is something special and what makes it special is when you go through the tunnel, you sit on the bench and you decide what happens from there. Being a coach brings everything back a little bit. That’s what I missed after I stopped playing. As a former player, you always get these emotional feelings when you are in the dugout. It’s such a good feeling.”
Some Tynecastle regulars are unhappy at this appointment, but then Levein has always been a divisive figure within Scottish football. Flogel expects him to relish the opportunity to revive the Edinburgh club and help them push up the Ladbrokes Premiership table.
“It’s a big chance for him and for the club. I’ve seen the new stand pictures and Tynecastle will be a great stadium. When that is finished, it will be time to step forward and maybe go for the championship. I’m putting some pressure on,” he laughed.
“As a manager and a coach, you prove yourself all the time in every single game. I’m sure Craig’s time with the national team and in England at Leicester will have helped him. It’s more experience. He’s a good manager and coach because he has so much experience in the game. This will all help him in the future. Hopefully it helps the future of Hearts. It’s important to remember the club because it’s not a one-man show. It’s Heart of Midlothian, not FC Craig Levein.”
Those who beg to differ must accept Levein is in charge until at least the end of the season. There can be no denying his Hearts managerial record, which confounds suggestions that he was not a success in the job first time round.
He was the first man since the 1960s to guide the club to European qualification in two consecutive seasons [2002/03 and 2003/04]. In his four seasons in Scotland’s top flight, he took Hearts to fifth place twice, followed by third place twice.
There were astute signings like Mark De Vries, plus the original 5-1 win against Hibs and a stint in the UEFA Cup groups sections before the tournament was renamed as the Europa League. And don’t forget that night in Bordeaux.
Flogel remembers Levein as a coach who got the best out of him as a player and helped him improve.
“I was a more complete player under Craig and I played in several positions. He knew where to put me on the field so it was a good time under him. I learned a lot. He played me in midfield, right-back, centre-back and as a striker, when I scored against Kilmarnock.
“It was a little bit difficult for him coming in after Jim Jefferies left. Lots of new boys came in so it was not easy to form a strong team but we played good football under Craig.”
Flogel’s own coaching career could be set for a dramatic change if he is promoted to take charge of the St Polten first team. He is remaining coy on that issue for the moment but doesn’t rule it out.
“It says in the paper that I am in the frame but I don’t know. St Polten are really struggling at the moment. They are bottom of the Bundesliga here,” he said.
“We are getting the normal stories you get when the gaffer loses a lot of games. I am in the frame right now in the media. We will see what happens. I am concentrating on my job and if it happens, it happens. I wouldn’t say no.
“I have my UEFA A Licence so now I have to get the Pro Licence. I’m coaching with St Polten Juniors right now. We have done quite well with this team and we surprised everybody with all the youngsters aged 17 and 18.”
Having gone from sporting director back to coaching, taking control of the first team is the kind of opportunity 46-year-old Flogel would jump at. When the adrenalin gets going in big games at the top level, it is difficult to match the feeling. Ask Craig Levein.