Hearts have finalised Robbie Neilson’s return as manager on a three-year contract.
Dundee United will receive compensation from the Edinburgh club, with Neilson declaring he couldn’t turn down the chance to go back to Tynecastle Park.
He passed up the chance to manage United in the Premiership to once again take charge of Hearts following their relegation to the Championship.
Tannadice officials initially rejected Ann Budge’s surprise approach for their manager, but they relented once Neilson made it clear he wanted to talk to his former employers.
“You don’t turn down the chance to come to a club like Hearts and I’m absolutely delighted to be coming back,” he told the Hearts website.
“I had some great experiences here, both as a player and manager, and I’m keen to pick up where I left off. Everyone knows there is a really good squad at Hearts and I’m excited to begin working with the players and staff.
“Finally, I’d like to say thank you to Dundee United for the opportunity they gave me two years ago. I hope the United fans feel that together we managed to restore the club back to where it belongs.”
A Tynecastle statement read: “Heart of Midlothian Football Club is delighted to announce that we have this evening agreed terms with all relevant parties for the return of Robbie Neilson as manager.
“The 40-year-old rejoins the Jambos on a three-year-deal after compensation was agreed with Dundee United.
“A trophy winner in spells as both a player and head coach at Hearts, the former Scotland cap needs no introduction to anyone of a maroon persuasion.
“Robbie spent nine-years playing in Gorgie, where he won the Scottish Cup, helped the Jam Tarts to second-place in the league and the Champions League qualifying berth that went with it, and scored a memorable UEFA Cup winner in Basle.
“He took over the club’s managerial reins in 2014 and immediately took the boys in maroon back to the top flight with a record-breaking Championship-winning campaign.
“A third-place Premiership finish followed the season after, and a return to European football, before Robbie moved down south to join MK Dons in 2018, returning to Scotland with Dundee United later that same year.
“He led United to the Championship title last season before deciding to come back home to Tynecastle.”
Daniel Stendel, the Hearts manager last season, was out of contract following the club’s enforced relegation to Scotland’s second tier and has now been replaced.
The Edinburgh club have launched legal action to challenge their demotion and seek compensation. Neilson steered United to the Championship title last season and has been tasked with the same responsibility at Hearts.
He was head coach at Tynecastle during a record-breaking promotion-winning campaign in 2014/15. He left for MK Dons in November 2016 and Hearts’ fortunes have dipped since.
Budge, the club owner, made bringing Neilson back to Edinburgh her priority. It is unclear at this stage who his backroom team would be, but Hearts reserve coach Andy Kirk and goalkeeping coach Paul Gallacher will be involved after signing new contracts earlier this month.
Neilson may try to bring coaches Gordon Forrest and Lee McCulloch with him from Tannadice.
Although he had the opportunity to manage in the Premiership with United, Neilson is intrigued by the prospect of rebuilding Hearts in the second tier once more.
He was appointed head coach after Budge gained control of the club in 2014 and oversaw a dramatic transformation in two and a half years.
After winning the 2015 Championship title in record-breaking fashion, he guided newly-promoted Hearts to third place and a spot in the Europa League qualifying rounds in his first season back in the top flight.
Neilson left the club sitting second in the Premiership after a 2-0 home win against Rangers in November 2016 – deciding that his future at that stage lay in England with MK Dons.
United appointed him head coach in October 2018 but the lure of Hearts tempted him back to Gorgie. The Tayside club said in a statement that they have agreed compensation for releasing Neilson.
It read: “Dundee United Football Club tonight announce that Head Coach Robbie Neilson will leave the club to join Heart of Midlothian FC.
“Earlier today, the Club rejected an approach by Hearts to speak to Robbie; however, at his insistence, the approach was subsequently accepted with compensation agreed between the Club and Hearts.
“Robbie has agreed terms with Hearts and will leave the club with immediate effect.”
United’s sporting director, Tony Asghar, said: “I can confirm that I was called today by Ann Budge seeking permission to speak with Robbie Neilson to become Hearts' new Head Coach.
“This was turned down, however, after lengthy discussions with Robbie he made it clear he wished to speak with them. As a result of this, the contractual termination clause has been met and Robbie will leave the Club.
“As Head Coach, he led the team to a play-off final before achieving promotion with a Championship title this season and I would like to thank him for his contribution.
“Gordon Forest and Lee McCulloch will continue leading our pre-season preparations ahead of the Scottish Premiership restart and we will look to appoint a new Head Coach as soon as possible.”
Mark Ogren, chairman at Tannadice, commented: “Although we are understandably disappointed, Dundee United Football Club are bigger than one person and we will continue to work towards our long-term plan with our staff and players and, of course, our loyal supporters.
“Robbie played a huge role in our journey so far, however, we now look towards the future, with a new leader and renewed hope for our fans.”
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