Hearts’ Craig Levein on social media, his message to players and ‘frothing’ outsiders

Pressure on Craig Levein and Neil Lennon is a common narrative surrounding Sunday’s Celtic-Hearts meeting despite calendars still showing August. The Hearts manager labels the scrutiny “crazy” and “ridiculous” noise which he ignores and has ordered his players to do likewise.

Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 10:30 pm
Craig Levein has told his Hearts players to ignore the noise. Pic: SNS

Some supporters in Gorgie bared their wrath when their club opened the Premiership with defeat at Aberdeen and a goalless draw at home to newly-promoted Ross County on the back of an unconvincing Betfred Cup group campaign. Friday’s encouraging Betfred Cup win at Motherwell eased the dissent somewhat.

Lennon’s criticism is largely a result of last week’s Champions League exit against the Romanian side Cluj. Despite Celtic winning their only two Premiership games to date this season 7-0 and 5-2, they have endured a verbal scolding in some quarters.

“Yeah, they have – but give me a crisis like that any day,” smirked Levein. “Seven goals and five goals? The world has gone crazy. Listen, I am under pressure as well am I not? And Paul [Heckingbottom] and Del [McInnes] and everybody. It’s getting crazy. It used to be you’d get to November before anything happened to managers. Then it was October. Now, if you lose a pre-season game people lose their s***.

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“Social media is a huge part of it because generally it’s the extreme: Everything is brilliant or crap. The truth, thankfully, with most owners is somewhere in between. I look at it now and think: ‘This is crazy.’

“It’s the immediacy of it all. People want things to happen now and that suits you guys as well because it’s something to write about. How do you shield yourself from it? Win every week.

“I just ignore the noise. Most of the complaints are from people at the extremes. Sometimes you get praised for not doing much. Most ordinary people are getting on with their lives and use football at the weekend for relaxation and pleasure. Unfortunately, I can’t use it for relaxation or pleasure! It does get ridiculous. It used to be you got time to shape a team and tinker here and there. Now, almost after every match you get this hysteria, as Lenny calls it. They’ve won 7-1 and 5-2. If we do that in our next two games I’d be quite happy.”

That is unlikely as Hearts visit the league champions, even though tiredness may be a factor for Celtic after Thursday night’s Europa League play-off against AIK Stockholm. Levein attended that match as he goes about his business blocking out any public carping.

“It was always the same but it was never as high and never as low. Now it’s this instant gratification. Then it becomes a snowball coming down a hill,” he said. “I don’t get involved in reading stuff. I stopped reading social media or comments online a long time ago.

“It’s not helpful when you are doing well to read everything is fine because you know there’s a pothole just around the corner. And, when you’re inside a club and know how hard everyone is working, you know some of the criticism is not accurate because you can see what’s going on. Over the last four or five years it has taken on a new aggression, I would say, that wasn’t there before.”

How does he shield players from it? “It’s me who’s getting stick, not them,” he laughed. “I’m just jesting, of course. The pressure is on everyone. I see how hard the boys work in training. That gives me confidence that, if we do go through a difficult period, we can come out the other end. Ignore the noise – that’s the message.

“Established players have more experience. It doesn’t mean they aren’t affected. The best players can get affected at Tynecastle when things aren’t going well. I remember I had a bad game once!

“I would say to the young players don’t go looking for praise on social media because you’re just going to find criticism. That’s my message to them. You don’t need a pat on the back outside the club. Take the pat on the back you get from your team-mates and the coaches – and take the boot up the a*** you get from them, too. That will be real and will have the right measure of severity. Outside the club, there’s people frothing out there who have no idea of what’s going on. I think it’s just widespread now.

“Listen, if you’re not doing well the fans will boo. We got booed long before there was social media. It’s just the severity of it that has changed, the extremes of it.”

Levein remains convinced he can guide Hearts to success. “I don’t expect to be bullet-proof but I also know that there’s a lot of good things going on here and I’m excited by what the future holds. I’m sure a lot of other managers in similar positions feel the same.

“It’s just part of what surrounds what we do and we’ve just got to deal with it – but it has certainly altered a lot since the last time I was here as manager.”