Liam Fox was offered India job by ex-Hearts manager Csaba Laszlo - now he's preparing Livingston for Betfred Cup final
The commute from his home in Currie is certainly easier. Plus there is a Betfred Cup final to prepare for. Six months since leaving Hearts, Fox is content as No.2 to David Martindale after a surprise proposal from the Bay of Bengal.
“Csaba picked up the phone to me and asked if I was interested in being his assistant. I said I was and it got further down the line,” explains Fox. “It didn’t happen mainly because of the situation with Covid in India and the amount of time I’d have to quarantine if I went there.
“I was open to anything at that point because I wasn’t working. It was really nice of Csaba to make the call but if it happened I wouldn’t be looking forward to a cup final now.”
Livingston’s meeting with St Johnstone at Hampden Park on Sunday alone justifies Fox's decision to leave boyhood club Hearts, where he had been first-team coach and latterly took the reserves.
He was offered a new role away from hands-on coaching but declined despite having no alternative employment at the time.
“It probably hurt me more than I let on because I grew up a massive Hearts fan. It was tough at the time,” he says. “I didn’t agree with it and I still don’t agree with it but sometimes things happen for a reason.
“Football can work strangely. Do I feel my decision to leave was justified? At the moment I do, yeah, but football is so short-term that things can change very quickly. I made the decision based on where I was in my career and the path I wanted to go down.
"You hope your reputation carries enough in the game. The Livingston option came a wee bit from left-field. It’s been good for me to see a different environment and judge myself. I’ve come up the ladder from first-team coach to assistant manager, so that’s good for my career.
“When Davie picked up the phone, I went through and we had a chat. I felt good about getting back into a job reasonably quickly. It’s a fantastic opportunity to be an assistant at a Premiership club.
“I was comfortable with the level of work I’d done at Hearts. It’s up to other people to judge but you’ve got to back yourself at some point. When the phone went, you could say I felt the decision was right for me.”
There is certainly something intriguing about working under Martindale. Sunday’s final will be just his 18th game in charge of Livingston, and only his seventh since being declared a ‘fit and proper person’ by the Scottish Football Association.
“One thing I learned pretty quickly with Davie: A spade is a spade. He’s a straight-shooter who says it how it is and tells you exactly what he’s thinking,” says Fox.
“He told me how he wanted things to work and asked me how I wanted to work. I said: ‘Davie, if you ask me a question, I’ll always give you my opinion. You might not like the opinion but I’ll never not give you it. If you have your own opinion then we can have a debate and make a decision.’
“I think he appreciated that honesty. I was never going to come in and just agree with everything he said. That’s not good for me, the players, Livingston or Davie. He wanted a different set of eyes and a different voice.
“Ultimately, Davie is the manager so he makes the decision. He has created a great environment for players to improve, to constantly be pushed and get better individually and collectively.”
Work ethic underpins everything they do. Players like Scott Robinson, Jason Holt and Marvin Bartley are established Premiership names who found a niche at Livingston and are responding to their gaffer’s demands. Hunger and appetite are prerequisites at the aptly-named Tony Macaroni Arena.
“I think that’s more than fair. Livingston give people opportunities but they need to work for everything,” stresses Fox, who captained the West Lothian club during seven years there as a player.
“No matter what happens on a Saturday, you know the players will give you absolutely everything. They’ll run as fast as they can until they drop and they’re aggressive without the ball. There is also talent and quality in the squad, which sometimes gets overlooked.”
The fusion clearly works, witness a historic unbeaten run stretching across Martindale’s first 14 games in charge. “That was an incredible run at any level in any league in the world,” admits Fox.
It included three Betfred Cup knockout ties against Ayr United, Ross County and St Mirren en route to Sunday’s final. Livingston lifted this trophy back in 2004 with a manager called David – Hay – and another ex-Hearts man by his side in Allan Preston.
Fox knows what to expect. “It’s a major opportunity for us and St Johnstone. The game will be tight, close and nervous. Everybody would want fans there so that makes it slightly different.
“Again, I know the players will give everything they’ve got. It’s comforting knowing that. You don’t need to worry about attitude or application because it’s going to be right.
“I’ve got the experience of the Scottish Cup final with Hearts [in 2019]. Sometimes it’s about keeping the players calm.
“A lot of the boys on both sides might not get the opportunity again because this doesn’t come along often. You don’t want to pass it up.”