'I have not been manipulated.' Hearts owner Ann Budge outlines new sporting director role and Craig Levein's job
Edinburgh club plan new appointment at their Riccarton training base
Sporting director of Hearts will be one of Ann Budge’s most crucial appointments. The role will not be given to Craig Levein. The club owner is restructuring Riccarton’s football department and, while she will ask Levein’s opinion, a new man will soon be recruited under a new title.
Levein was director of football and manager until his sacking last week with Hearts joint-bottom of the Premiership. No one person will do both jobs from now on. Whilst searching for a new manager, Budge is seeking a separate recruit to work without responsibility for coaching or picking the first team.
“Basically, we take the first team out of it,” explained Budge. “They will be doing it on behalf of the manager, as happens at a lot of other clubs. I think they are equally-senior appointments. The manager has to have the say on the first team, but I don’t need an admin support on the other side of things. I need a senior person doing that as well.
“In terms of the first team, the manager will have to call the shots. If they want someone, it will be: ‘I want him. I know he’s costing too much but I want him.’ Then it will be up to us to work out a way of doing it.
“The idea in my head will be that the manager says: ‘We absolutely need a new striker.’ Much in the way we do just now on the recruitment side, although it’s not strong enough. We have to strengthen our recruitment process. The manager is going to say what he needs and somebody else has to go away and find it.”
Both the new manager and sporting director will report to Budge. “The single biggest difference is that the director of football had overall responsibility for everything, including the first team. We have a head coach and he [the DoF] was there to give guidance and advice or whatever to the head coach.”
Levein took a background role at Riccarton after being relieved of his duties on Thursday. “I have a meeting with Craig where we’ll be shaping the processes and making sure Craig knows what the remit is and where the boundaries are,” said Budge. “The biggest boundary is that he no longer has input into the first team. That would confuse things.
“I do need the new sporting director to take responsibility for a host of other things, like recruitment, selling players, plus we have our medical department. I want to make sure all our decision-making processes are clear and the accountability process is clear for all these functions. Craig will absolutely help me shape that, will he be doing the actual role? What I’m saying is that I want to appoint a sporting director as soon as possible.”
Relying so heavily on Levein since she appointed him director of football in 2014 brought Budge some stinging criticism from sections of fans, not to mention allegations that she had been manipulated.
“When you read things like I have been manipulated, it is irritating. I do not believe for a second I’ve been manipulated,” she said. “I know who makes the decisions and everybody at the senior level of this club knows who makes the decisions. So that annoys me – ill-informed comments, either because they haven’t asked the question or they’re misinformed. I get irritated by that when I see things.
“A very small example: Supporters got upset because somebody said we had no representation when John Robertson was inducted in to the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. That’s absolutely not true. So it’s misinformation. Somebody said: ‘I have it on good authority.’ They don’t have it on good authority. We were represented, John knew we were represented and I’ve had various conversations with him, before and since. So that silliness annoys me. Do they really think we would be that foolish?
“One thing I did learn from Craig, quite early on, is you can’t let yourself worry about it. I read on Saturday or Sunday that I’m about to appoint a particular manager [Motherwell’s Stephen Robinson] and it’s going to cost me so much. I could get annoyed about that, it’s the height of nonsense.
“Neither myself nor the club have approached anybody. If I was to approach a manager who is already under contract, believe me I would do it properly. I would be going to the other club and asking, ‘please can I talk to...’ because I believe you should do things properly.”
Making such key decisions like the two she now faces at Hearts brings criticism which at times gets out of hand. Budge admits she sometimes questions her own position. “It’s not pleasant,” she said. “It’s certainly not pleasant for the manager or anyone on the receiving end of it. I remain convinced that extremest element, if I can call it that, is very much in the minority. Yes, a lot of supporters are unhappy, they will show that by booing or whatever, but they don’t go and graffiti the plaza.
“I don’t want to say you’ve got to accept it because it’s part of football, because it’s not part of football. It’s individuals who behave badly. I have had moments of why am I doing this, do I really need this? Then I remember why I am doing it. I do believe genuinely that like me, the majority of the supporters, yes they feel passionately and they want the best and they get frustrated when things are not going well, but you can’t let the very small minority spoil everything.”