Ann Budge: Hearts heading in right direction but Craig Levein is not bomb-proof
Hearts owner Ann Budge says manager Craig Levein is not bomb-proof but insists the Edinburgh club are heading in a positive direction under his stewardship.
Levein leads Hearts into the Scottish Cup final against Celtic tomorrow after finishing sixth in the Ladbrokes Premiership. Some fans are unhappy with the campaign and have voiced their discontent, while others have shown patience after a multitude of injury problems.
Budge decided to hand Levein the manager's job in August 2017 after working with him as director of football for three years at Tynecastle Park. She gave him an overseeing role of the football department after seizing control of Hearts when they emerged from administration in 2014.
The Edinburgh businesswoman said nobody at the club is untouchable but stressed that nobody will be happier than Levein if Hearts beat Celtic at Hampden Park.
"I hear some supporters saying that Craig is bomb proof, but he's not, I can say that categorically," Budge told the BBC. "I've been in business a long time and nobody is bomb proof. This has been a very topsy-turvy season. Are we still heading in the right direction? I genuinely believe so. As long as I feel that's the case then I'll back our plan and I'll back the people who are working incredibly hard to deliver it.
"Let me say something else: If Craig thought things were going really badly and that he was part of the issue he would be the first person to say: 'This isn't working.' Now, does that mean I'm not prepared to deal with it if I think it's not working? No, it doesn't.
"Right now, the truth is that I'm not unhappy with this season. It's not what we wanted, but we've been to a League Cup semi-final at Murrayfield and we're in a Scottish Cup final at Hampden. We're in the top six. Our financial results will be good. Five years ago [after going into administration] we would probably have been pretty happy to say that this is where we would be."
Budge revealed that she has also endured criticism from supporters in the main stand, while Levein told her that a portion of fans will never accept him. "He said: 'You do realise, Ann, that there are some people who will never accept me.' There are a few supporters who will never be happy. We could win the league and the cup, we could do the treble and they would still say Craig Levein is the wrong man for the job.
"That's built up over all the years he's been here. Not everyone likes his style of football, not everyone likes the way he sets up the team, but there are even more supporters who are happy to give him a chance and thank him for everything he has done and is doing.
"The criticism is not pleasant. I've had some of it. Never outside of the stadium, but inside the ground, when the result goes against us I've had the supporters turn and stare and point and shout, 'what are you doing about this?!' It's not as vitriolic as it is with Craig, so he deserves a lot of credit for dealing with it.
"He's been in football so long and knows how volatile supporters can be and how they can change at the flick of a switch. We've all seen it. One minute they're singing his name and the next they're yelling for his head. I might be speaking to supporters after a disappointing result and I say: 'Who do you think is the most unhappy person today? It's not you, it's the players, but above all others, it's Craig.'
"That's why I say that if we managed to win on Saturday he'll be the first person on my mind. It would mean an awful lot to all of us but if we managed to win then the person it would mean most to would be Craig. I know how hard he works and how much he loves this club. He'd be the first one I'd think of. For him, it wouldn't just be winning silverware that was special, it would be winning it with Hearts."