Following the departure of Ian Cathro as head coach only five days before the season starts, Hearts are on the look-out for a new man to lead the team.
Already a number of names, old and new, realistic and unrealistic, have floated around with many usual suspects featuring on the shortlist compiled by bookies.
Who are the likely and unlikely names who could take over at Tynecastle?
First things first. Hartley is a Hearts legend. While his coaching pedigree may raise question marks, his playing past will certainly afford him the respect and patience, to an extent, of the fans. Previous incumbents, Robbie Neilson and Cathro, failed to connect with the support, that would not be an issue with Hartley. There would be an instant bond.
The 40-year-old was brought to the club as a player by Craig Levein following spells with Hibs and St Johnstone and the two remain close, which should therefore open the possibility of Hartley working as a head coach rather than manager. Yet, while he brought Dundee into the Ladbrokes Premiership and consolidated the club, the general feeling among Dundee fans is that in the end he underwhelmed.
His recruitment was haphazard, many of the 44 players he signed didn’t work out. His tactics were questioned and he too went out of the Betfred Cup group stages 12 months previously. One of the most galling moments from his Dundee tenure was having two players, Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings, nominated for the Player of the Year award while finishing in the bottom six.
The appointment of their former captain would certainly split a support who were united in their view that Cathro’s time was up. Such was the cloud which engulfed his standing at Hearts on returning to Tynecastle with Celtic and celebrating too vociferously, he has never been welcomed back since.
At one time, Pressley and Levein were a double act as captain and manager. Yet, the confidence that protrudes from Pressley as a manager and coach suggests he would be more inclined to want full autonomy. He has previously spoken of wanting to manage at a club which offers stability, albeit one in England. Despite the on field instability in recent months, he would find a club moving forwards off the field.
His coaching career to date has been mixed. A spell at Coventry City, working with constraints, saw his reputation rise with Huddersfield Town expressing in interest before he signed a new four-year contract at the club. He was sacked five months later and then had an unsuccessful spell at Fleetwood Town.
If Hearts desire a proven Premiership manager to lead the team they should pull out all the stops to appoint the Northern Irishman who has led St Johnstone to their only major silverware, three successive top-four finishes and regular European qualification.
This is a coach who simply makes players better and makes them function within the team. He extracts every ounce of ability, transforming and rehabilitating players’ careers. One criticism of players in recent months is that they don’t care, that they don’t get what it means to play for the Hearts. Wright would make sure to cleanse the club of those players and that issue.
Of course, pertinent questions would be asked: why hasn’t he been poached by bigger clubs? Could he transfer the success to Hearts? Despite an early exit from Europe this season, the evidence points to yes, he could transfer those managerial powers to EH11.
All that, however, comes with two caveats. First of all, Wright has built a squad he is really happy with at McDiarmid Park. Secondly, he would want full control over all matters of the playing side. Would he get that with the current model at Tynecastle?
Going back to the meet the management team even held by the club, the star of the show was MacPhee. He spoke with authority, he had a self-confidence and empathy which appeared lacking from Cathro. Fans coming away from the meeting would have likely seen MacPhee as the more natural fit for the head coach role.
The Fifer is well-regarded as a coach, is innovative and appears to straddle the two aspects which are important within Scottish football – embracing technology, stats, while understanding the need for battling qualities.
But would his appointment appeal to the Hearts support? He’d likely be seen as a continuation, too much of the same. Linked heavily to the Cathro’s tenure he would unlikely be afforded the same time as a new ‘fresh face’, while stepping into the role may not even appeal to him.
It would not be a surprise to see the club keep him as interim for the first four games as a trial period.
Currently doing a good job at Falkirk in the Championship, Peter Houston is likely to be in the frame for a return to Tynecastle.
The 59-year-old was assistant to Craig Levein when the latter was manager of Hearts and has worked with the current director of football at Dundee United and on a national level with Scotland. He won the Scottish Cup with the Tangerines and experienced and trusted coach who has a track record of fielding well-organised and disciplined teams.
Also widely hated by the green half of the Capital, which does his credentials no harm whatsoever in this situation ...
The chances of Naysmith being appointed are slim. If he wasn’t a former Hearts player it’s unlikely he would be linked at all. He has built up a modicum of experience lower down the leagues, working as coach with East Fife before taking over permanently as player-manager.
He has League Two winning medal from his time in Methil, yet even that success came with 10 defeats in 36 games with half the league separated by six points come the end of the season. He also has a relegation with East Fife from League One to his CV. It was enough for him to be appointed Queen of the South boss during last season where he did a solid if unspectacular job.
The appeal of Naysmith is that he is a young manager which fits the club’s remit. He can be developed as a head coach. Although, that is an issue for much of the support, they don’t want coaches to be developed they want success.
The Partick Thistle manager is someone who would fit the club’s coaching philosophy and likely appease the fans. The 39-year-old has had four seasons’ worth of experience as a Premiership manager, having led the club to the First Division title, as it was called then, in 2013.
He has consolidated the Jags as a recognised Premiership club, building and improving the team. Thistle have enjoyed entertaining football in spells under Archibald, while they have witnessed their manager evolve and learn from experiences. It would be hard pushed to find a support in the country with a greater affection for their manager.
Archibald has not only evolved himself as a manager but the team also. They were too often predictable in the early years with their advanced full-backs. Last season, however, saw the club reach their highest league finish in 36 years when they made the top six. A lot of that was down to the flexibility installed by Archibald and his shrewd recruitment. It is unsurprising that he has had interest from down south.
He is comfortable working in a structure with fellow coaches and a managing director.
Now this would be a controversial appointment. The man who ended Hibs’ Scottish Cup hoodoo taking over at Hearts. It would be a very, very, very brave move from the Hearts board.
Ignore the rivalry, even if it is hard to do, and he would certainly have featured has a plausible candidate. He is outspoken, had a relatively successful time at Easter Road, wants his sides to play positive football, has worked under a director of football before and is well-versed in Scottish football.
However, one of the game’s best qualities is its tribalism and it would be that which would either put the club off appointing the Englishman or make it very difficult for him to win the fans over if he was.
READ MORE: Steven Pressley is bookies’ favourite to be new Hearts manager