Gary Mackay: It’s now question of when not if for Craig Levein – but potential Hearts exit is complicated

In the wake of Saturday’s events, it’s no longer a case of whether Craig Levein should be relieved of his duties as Hearts manager.

Monday, 16th September 2019, 5:45 pm
Craig Levein looks on during the 3-2 defeat by Motherwell at Tynecastle. Pic: SNS

It’s now about when and how it can be done, and that won’t be straightforward at all given the structure at the football club.

When supporters start protesting outside the stadium, there’s usually no way back. The problem, of course, is that Craig has a finger in so many pies within the football club and has the trust and loyalty of Ann Budge, which has been built up ever since she earmarked him for the director of football role around six years ago.

Unfortunately, the reason it’s become such a complicated situation for Ann is down to her own making. When you take over a club and put someone virtually in sole charge of the football department, where they control every aspect of it, this is what happens.

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I have voiced my concerns before about the level of power Craig has within the football club and now it has a manifested itself in a situation where Ann doesn’t appear to know how to deal with it now that his reign as manager has become untenable.

Because we don’t have a strong board of directors, which we have been able to get away with up until now, Craig is effectively only answerable to Ann, whom he has a strong relationship with.

Due to this situation, even though we are bottom of the league and the supporters have made their feelings clear, I would be astonished if Craig is not still the manager for Sunday’s match against Hibs.

Just like myself, Craig has never won a major honour in football and I think that will be a factor in her thinking. I suspect her desire to see Craig succeed at Hearts is tainting her view on the job he is actually doing. Last season, getting to the Scottish Cup final and giving himself a chance of glory effectively bought him some time in a period when the league form was dropping off a cliff, and I feel the prospect of Craig winning the Betfred Cup will now be in Ann’s thinking. With that in mind, I think he’ll get, at the very least, to lead the team in the quarter-final against Aberdeen. If you look at Craig’s record, the Edinburgh derby and Aberdeen at home are two of the fixtures we’ve performed best in over the past couple of years so these two games could very well offer him some wriggle room in the coming weeks.

With Steven Naismith and Ryotaro Meshino still to get up and running, I think that’s the way both Ann and Craig will be looking at it. But it doesn’t change the fact that, in a normal situation, most managers would have been shown the door by this point.

Looking at the results this calendar year, excluding the Scottish Cup run, which wasn’t a particularly difficult one to negotiate in terms of the calibre of opposition, similar runs of form have resulted in previous managers of our football club being relieved of their duties. Craig knows that only too well.

Like myself, he was part of the team when Joe Jordan was sacked with the club in mid-table just a year after he had finished second in the league.

Our league results, particularly at Tynecastle, have been abysmal and I get very disappointed when a man of Craig’s intellect tries to soften it with the supporters by using words to the effect of “I’ll get it right” and “we’re working on things to fix it”. We were told after losing two goals to Hamilton that they had been working on the defence during the international break and then we go and lose three goals at home to Motherwell. Then we hear on Saturday that “we’re only six points off fourth place”. That’s a cheap shot at the supporters, trying to downplay the situation. The reality is that we should be in fourth place already considering the fixtures we have had and the quality of squad we’ve been able to assemble because of having a bigger budget than most teams in the league.

There’s every chance our footballing budget is bigger than that of Ross County, Hamilton and Motherwell put together and we’ve not been able to beat any of them at home.

The Hearts supporters have put their heart and soul into the football club and continue to do so, and I feel they’re being disrespected by comments that don’t reflect the standing and the class of our football club.