Craig Levein is hoping Hearts can prove they’re a club on the march by winning their first major trophy since emerging from administration almost five years ago.
The 54-year-old returned to Tynecastle in 2014 to lead the club’s post-relegation resurgence as director of football, and has also spent the bulk of the past two seasons as manager.
After a bright start to the new era in which a runaway Championship title triumph was followed by a third-place finish in the Premiership under Robbie Neilson, back-to-back mid-table finishes in the following two campaigns served to remove the wind from supporters’ sails and led to increased scrutiny on the football department. With Hearts looking likely to finish fifth or sixth this season, the current campaign is set to be defined by the outcome of next month’s Scottish Cup final.
Levein is adamant that Hearts are thriving as a result of the work undertaken to rebuild the infrastructure over the past five years, but the manager knows ultimately a football club is judged by its on-field feats. In that regard, he is desperate for some silverware to vindicate the progress he feels is being made.
“All I want for this club is the best,” he told Hearts TV. “I’ve spent five years trying my damndest, working as hard as I can, to get everything on the football side of things in a good place. I feel that behind the scenes the football department is as well run as anything I’ve ever been involved in. The building blocks are in place for the future. For that to be seen sometimes, we need to do something on the park that shows that not only are things in the future going to be good, but things are going to be good now. And that’s what we need to do when it comes round to the final.”
Hearts showed their potential in the opening three months of the season when they surged clear at the top of the Premiership before being knocked badly off course by a wretched run amid high-profile injuries. After reaching their first cup final since 2013, Levein is adamant they are on the cusp of becoming a team to he reckoned with once more.
“I spoke in the lead-up to this game about where the club is now compared to five years ago and it’s incredible, the progress that’s been made,” he said in his post-match media briefing with newspaper journalists. “Most people tend to judge progress on what goes on out on the park and that isn’t always the best indicator. From the moment Ann Budge asked me to come back here she talked about long-term planning and getting the club to a place where we can regularly compete at the top end of the league and in cup finals. We’ve done well in that respect this year but the good thing for me is that underneath, everything’s working like clockwork and that the club’s on the up. As a result of that, the stuff out on the park will be right, I’m confident of that.”
Levein, who suffered a health scare last August and has come under pressure after seeing his team slip from top spot to sixth, is hoping to end a testing campaign with silverware in his hands.
“It’s been one of the more interesting seasons, for sure,” he said. “All I want is the best for the club. Simple as that. I’ve poured four-and-a-half years of my life, in this last period, in trying to build the club back up to where I think we can get to. Obviously there are moments in there that I feel proud of. And this will be another one. I’ve done a lot of things in football but to come back and win a cup with Hearts would be the best thing I’ve ever done.”