Hearts manager Craig Levein has contacted BBC Scotland to voice concern about ongoing criticism from pundit Michael Stewart which he deems to be driven by a personal grudge.
The pair didn’t see eye to eye when Stewart played under Levein during a spell on loan at Tynecastle from Manchester United 13 years ago, and the 36-year-old former midfielder has never made a secret of the fact he doesn’t like the current Hearts manager.
While Levein has no issue with Stewart or anyone else voicing their opinion, he is disappointed with the BBC Scotland for allowing someone who has clearly stated he doesn’t like him to then be allowed such an elevated platform with the national broadcaster to analyse his work and, by extension, “whip up” sections of the Hearts support against him.
The manager doesn’t believe it is a coincidence that Stewart – a prominent radio pundit on Sportsound and a television analyst for Sportscene – has been his most vociferous media critic since he returned to Tynecastle in 2014, initially as director of football.
“Just because Michael says something, it doesn’t mean that we are doing everything wrong,” said Levein. “It is personal with Michael and he is just making a fool of himself. I don’t particularly like him and I hear he doesn’t like me. I’m actually not that bothered about Michael or what he says but I am annoyed at the BBC. For him to admit that he has an agenda and for them to still allow him the platform, for me, that is a nonsense.
“He is trying to whip up fans and, as I say, it is the BBC. They have allowed him that opportunity but I have had a conversation so we will see what happens. I have spoken to (BBC Radio Scotland editor) Tom Connor and we will see what happens. The details of the conversation will remain between Tom and I.”
While Levein was generally in lighthearted mood when discussing his nemesis, it is clear he felt a personal vendetta was at play after he was alerted to Stewart’s comments on Sportsound last Saturday evening in the aftermath of the goalless draw with Ross County. Stewart was clearly bemused with the manager’s upbeat post-match interview in which he played down the suggestion that a lot of fans had booed Hearts off and insisted his team had “played some really good football and created loads of chances”. The pundit described the claims as “bizarre” amid a scathing analysis of Levein’s three-month tenure as manager.
“Somebody drew my attention to what he was saying after the game on Saturday, when we played well and had all those chances, and it got to the point where I thought ‘listen, if he can’t accept that and is still trying to pick holes in it, for me, it comes back to the BBC allowing him to do that’. That is more worrying than what he’s actually saying,” said the former Scotland manager.
“Someone was telling me that he was trawling about on Saturday night trying to find stuff on the internet to prove that we hadn’t played well. It is hysterical. He just needs to chill. He’s going to self-combust one day, that’s for sure. He thinks he is doing his best for Hearts and I am certainly trying to do my best for Hearts.
“Listen, it is a bit of frivolity for me here – I probably shouldn’t get involved. But on a serious note, I do think that if someone has admitted that they have an agenda, to then give them a platform to continue to rant... I’m not at any point saying that I don’t deserve any criticism. I have had more criticism than most, particularly during my time at Scotland, but criticism of me at that time was valid. But when he has admitted he has an agenda and keeps going on about the same stuff over and over and over again, I just don’t see how that is fair. I just don’t get it. The BBC, for me, have always been a company that plays it straight down the middle. He doesn’t like me, he’s said that. He’s openly admitted it, and I don’t like him. I can take criticism if it’s fair and it’s based on something other than a grudge.”
Stewart started three matches and made six substitute appearances under Levein in the first three months of the 2004/05 season before the manager left to take over at Leicester City. Stewart then had two seasons with Hibs before returning to Hearts for a second spell in 2007, which lasted for three years and encompassed 100 games. The Edinburgh-born player was handed the captaincy by Csaba Laszlo at the start of what would be his final season at Hearts. Reflecting on his time as Stewart’s manager, Levein said: “All I can say about Michael is that his agent at the time was George Wright, who used to play here (for Hearts). We didn’t have any money at the time but George said that Man United would cover his salary. But we had to put something on the contract so it was £1 a week and, without doubt, it was the worst value for money I have ever had from any player, and that is a fact.”