Gary Mackay: My view on Hearts appointing Craig Levein as manager

Ann Budge has turned to Craig Levein to steady the ship at Hearts. Pic: SNS
Ann Budge has turned to Craig Levein to steady the ship at Hearts. Pic: SNS
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It’s common knowledge that myself and Craig Levein don’t see eye to eye.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge the quality footballer he was and the fact that he did very well in his previous spell as Hearts manager and also in charge of Dundee United. Within Scottish club football, Craig has a very good pedigree.

Whoever the Hearts manager is, regardless of any personal issues we may have, I want them to succeed, and it’s no different this time. Like all football supporters, I want my team to be challenging at the top of the league, winning cups, winning derby matches and, hopefully, playing entertaining football.

Even though he is not the most popular appointment we could have made, Craig Levein will be judged the same as Robbie Neilson, Ian Cathro, Tommy McLean, Jim Jefferies, Alex MacDonald and all the other Hearts managers of the past – by results.

Bearing in mind what he did in his previous spell as manager of Hearts, I feel there’s an opportunity for the team to improve under him. But that is tempered slightly by the fact that spell ended 13 years ago. And by the fact that it is eight years since his last successful spell in football management – at Dundee United.

For all that he has good credentials for the role as manager, I think it would be remiss to ignore what has been a highly questionable three years as director of football and also how things have been handled at the club over the last month since Ian Cathro’s sacking.

There is no getting away from the fact that Craig is now effectively being asked to pick up the pieces from his tenure as director of football and Cathro’s reign as head coach.

But ultimately, we need to ask how many slices of the cake one person have at the club? We have a situation where Craig could be first-team manager, still retain some director of football duties and also keep his place on the board. From the outside looking in, it seems like a lot of power for one individual to have within the football club.

We’re the first club in Scotland to adopt this model for any period of time and it looks like it’s been proven that having a director of football with so much power is not really the way forward in this country. Aside from one exceptionally impressive season in the Championship when everything went to plan, I don’t think we can say the strategy has been a roaring success.

More than three years down the line, we find ourselves with a raft of young coaches on the books, but none deemed ready to become head coach. In addition, we find that our city rivals, who started their post-relegation rebuild at pretty much the same time as us in 2014, are now in a far more harmonious state as a club and threatening to overtake us.

We now have our director of football of the last three years in charge until the end of the season. What happens next? It just feels like we’re in a constant state of flux at a time when the team should have a level of momentum and stability that matches the good work going on at the club off the park.

Having said that, the way things have been handled by the club over the last few months leaves a lot to be desired. Craig Levein initially left Hearts for Leicester City at a time when he felt he wouldn’t be able to work under Vladimir Romanov. To be blunt, the whole process that has unfolded over the past month and led us to the point of Craig being appointed manager again has been as bizarre as many of the episodes that happened under Romanov. In fact I’d go as far as to say that, certainly to outsiders looking in, it’s been a wee bit laughable.

I have sympathy for Jon Daly, who clearly felt he had a genuine chance of getting the job, as well as all the other supposedly high-calibre candidates who would have felt they were in contention.

My gut feeling for some time, however, has been that Ann Budge has wanted Craig to take charge of the first-team and now we have arrived at that point.

Football clubs are not for playing about with, especially not a club like Hearts, with so many loyal and passionate supporters. Craig Levein has been the prominent figure on the football department at a time when we have lost our way quite spectacularly. A lot of supporters feel he should have been more accountable for what has gone wrong. He now needs to find a way of getting us back on track in his new guise as manager. The only way he can do that is to win football matches on a far more consistent basis.