Ann Budge’s influence on Hearts has never been more discernible. Construction work is beginning on Tynecastle’s new main stand, the club’s balance sheet is healthy and negotiations are underway for new signings during the transfer window.
Budge’s name is firmly etched in Hearts’ folklore for her rebuilding job since the club emerged bedraggled and punch-drunk from administration in June 2014. However, there is an argument that her methods could have a similar revolutionary effect on the whole Scottish football.
The Edinburgh entrepreneur already holds a seat on the Scottish Professional Football League board – recognition in itself of her sterling efforts in Gorgie. Could she also be utilised within the corridors of the Scottish Football Association in attempt to rid the game’s governing body of its stuffy bureaucracy?
Robbie Neilson believes 2017 would be an ideal opportunity for Budge to spread her influence across the game in Scotland if she desires. He was head coach of Hearts from the moment Budge arrived with director of football Craig Levein until he joined MK Dons just last month.
The 36-year-old has nothing but admiration for his former chairwoman and feels she should be given licence to share ideas and change the so-called traditional ways of thinking. The only issue might be finding the time to do so given her range of responsibilities at Tynecastle.
“I think it would be great for Scottish football. She’s got her place on the SPFL board just now but I think it’s down to whatever she wants to do. I think, whatever Ann wants to do within the game, she should definitely be given the opportunity to do it,” Neilson told the Evening News.
“It’s really up to her how much of an influence she wants to have. Her place on the SPFL board affects the way Hearts are run, so that’s really important. Hearts fans will want her to stay there as long as possible to continue giving the guidance she’s giving at the moment. I think she would be phenomenal for Scottish football further up but that would take her time away from Hearts.
“The job she’s done there has been remarkable. From the dealings she’s had with everyone, they all speak so highly of her and I couldn’t speak any higher of her.”
Despite being in her late 60s and never having worked in the football industry before, Budge has managed to run Hearts with precision and prudence. A fresh mindset and alternative ideas mean she doesn’t conform to tradition.
“It’s seeing football from a different perspective,” said Neilson. “I’ve been in the game full-time really since I was 16. That’s 20 years. You get clouded in the way things are done because that’s the way it’s always been done.
“The key for me is that Ann and her staff at Tynecastle have come from a different environment. They come in and say: ‘Why are we doing this?’ A lot of the time it makes you think. It’s because we’ve always done it. Then you think: ‘Why don’t we do something different?’ Sometimes it takes someone from outside to speak to you and make you realise.
“We brought people in to speak to the players who were from different environments. It gives you that different perspective of where you are. Often, you get so focused on the way you’re doing things and you go from Saturday to Saturday to Saturday. Another perspective is very important.”
Neilson revealed some of the inner workings of the Edinburgh club which prove that the simple things can be the crucial things. Many of them centre around one of Budge’s trademarks – clear communication.
“Hearts have a budget and they work to it. It’s a good budget and everyone understands where the club is. Ann has always helped with that 100 per cent,” he explained.
“If there was something we believed we needed, she would try to get it for us. You can see that even with the small details at the academy. There are little things which get done to add that little bit. For example, they get use of the hydrotherapy pool now, there are other little details in the changing rooms, video analysis – everything is adding and taking little steps one at a time.
“I would go to Craig for the smaller things and he would then okay it with Ann. It was important we had that process. I’d say: ‘This is what I want and this is why I want it.’ Craig would then go and speak to Ann about it. She was always happy with it.”
Yet she is not in the habit of spending unnecessarily. “You can’t be a club that just decides to go ‘boom’ and that’s it. That way costs too much money and it puts you in difficult positions, like we had at Hearts previously. Money was thrown about willy-nilly and then you lose total control of what’s happening.
“The small steps which have taken place at Hearts over the last two and a half years have taken the club in the right direction every single day. So much of that is down to Ann.”