Image of new Hearts manager takes shape as Ann Budge considers candidates
Edinburgh club have interviewed managers with certain attributes
A very rough outline of the new Hearts manager can be sketched from profiles of those interviewed for the job so far. Talks with Stuart McCall, Steve Cotterill, Neil McCann, Alan Irvine and Jack Ross indicate that Ann Budge, the club owner, has developed a draft idea of the man she wants to succeed Craig Levein.
She will not be too specific at this stage because Hearts are still scouring the market and weighing up several other potential candidates three weeks after sacking Levein. This will not be a quick process. However, the decision to speak to those above offers a basic insight into what they are looking for.
McCall, Cotterill, McCann and Irvine are aged from mid-40s to early-60s. Ross is now out of the running having taken the manager’s position at Hibs but he also falls into the same age bracket. They all possess varying degrees of experience at different levels of British football and, in McCall’s case, internationally with Scotland.
The fact they were all unemployed at the time of interview does not necessarily mean Hearts are recruiting on the cheap. Budge is also assessing people already in work at other football clubs and will make any official approaches when she feels the time is appropriate.
McCall, Cotterill, McCann and Irvine are all hungry to return to football coaching after leaving Scunthorpe United, Birmingham City, Dundee and West Ham United respectively. They are old enough and sufficiently distinguished to command respect within a dressing room containing several international players, such as the one at Riccarton. They have also demonstrated an ability to absorb modern ideas and concepts as football continually evolves.
The Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson, 44, fits the same mould as the others in terms of age and profile. His work at Fir Park has earned admiration and he is one manager the Tynecastle Park hierarchy would be interested in speaking to. Age may go against others like the German coach Felix Magath, 66, and recently-released Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock, 70.
Budge’s focus is firmly on finding the right man for the long term. A quick fix does not interest her. She is not at the point of hiring yet and will leave interim manager Austin MacPhee in charge of the first team for the time being whilst her due diligence continues.
More interviews are planned and many supporters hope the former Hannover and Barnsley coach Daniel Stendel, 45, is one. He resigned as head coach at Oakwell last month after one win in ten games, but his exit brought disappointment and anger from Barnsley fans.
Some Hearts followers may feel their club’s recruitment process is becoming protracted but Budge will not be rushed. She wants to see what is available, who her club could attract and who covets the job. There is also the small matter of finding a sporting director to work with the new manager. Irvine is a contender for both roles having worked at youth level with Everton, Newcastle United and Blackburn.
One thing the Hearts owner prioritises is experience. Hiring a 30-year-old Ian Cathro as head coach in December 2016 was a decision she quickly regretted. He was sacked seven months later and Levein was invited to take the manager’s job in conjunction with his director of football role. That chapter closed, this next recruitment is vital on the back of two failed appointments.
Budge will also be acutely aware of the timing in the context of her own stewardship. She is due to pass ownership of Hearts to the fan-led group Foundation of Hearts next year. She will continue running the club for another year or possibly two thereafter.
So, potentially, this could be the last manager she employs. The new man could well become part of her legacy when she leaves. It has to be right for that reason as well as the need to push Hearts towards the Premiership’s upper echelons.
Budge carries a rough draft of the right candidate in her mind but she fully intends taking time until the picture becomes clearer.