Robbie Neilson helps restore Hearts' DNA and knows what fans want, says Steven Pressley

No-risk appointment of a man fully aware of the club’s fabric

By Barry Anderson
Thursday, 25th June 2020, 7:40 am
Steven Pressley and Robbie Neilson were team-mates at Hearts.
Steven Pressley and Robbie Neilson were team-mates at Hearts.

Hearts stood accused of losing their identity over the last few years, their slide down the Scottish Premiership table evidence of on-field decline. Robbie Neilson’s return as manager immediately restores some of the club’s DNA.

Neilson was a Scottish Cup winner, Champions League qualifier and European goalscorer as a player in maroon. He also managed Hearts to a record-breaking Championship title success and guided them back into the Europa League as manager first time round.

He is now back for a second spell after leaving newly-promoted Dundee United at the request of owner Ann Budge. He instantly brings with him an in-depth understanding of Hearts’ traditional make-up.

“He does, very much so. He has spent the vast majority of his footballing life at Hearts so nobody knows the fabric of the club better than him,” said Steven Pressley, captain of the team Neilson thrived in. “He also knows the pressures, what the support expect. That’s important.

“He has a very strong and trusting relationship with Ann and that should never be underestimated. That’s probably the most important aspect in his return, having that trust to go and make the decisions.”

Neilson’s awareness of what makes Hearts and their supporters tick will be a key factor in rebuilding the club. Pressley draws certain similarities from his experiences in England.

“Look at Sean Dyche at Burnley. He plays a certain of football but that is very much suited to what the fans demand and want. The more patient passing styles used by some other clubs maybe wouldn’t be accepted in the same way at Burnley,” he explained.

“I think that’s very much like the situation at Hearts. The fans, especially at Tynecastle, want aggressive, front-foot football. In my opinion, they don’t want patient football. They are quite an impatient crowd and want a fast-action style. Robbie very much knows that.

“It’s important when you are coming into the club, that you understand the fabric of it and what the support expect of your team.”

Hearts are preparing for life in the Scottish Championship after an enforced relegation. Neilson won that division with United by some distance last season.

He also harbours Premiership experience from his first Tynecastle tenure. That would be useful if the Edinburgh club are returned to the top flight through any ruling in the Court of Session as a result of their legal action.

“It makes absolute sense to appoint Robbie if Hearts find themselves in the Championship this coming season,” said Pressley. “He has demonstrated at Dundee United and previously at Hearts that he can deliver what it takes to get out of that division. It’s a no-risk appointment in that respect.

“If they find themselves in the Premiership, which I hope they do, he is inheriting a team where people have underachieved. He can immediately make improvements.

“He is returning to Hearts at a time when they have more financial power and stability than probably every other club apart from Celtic and Rangers. That gives him a great platform to make an impact.

“The one thing I would say is that, looking at the squad, if Hearts remain in the Premiership then it might take Robbie a couple of years to make the impact he wants.

“There is an ageing squad there. It’s a squad which, over the course of time, have proved they are maybe not up to it but a lot of the players are still tied to contracts. It could take that bit of time in the Premiership, but the impact would be greater in the Championship.”

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