OUTBREAKS of insanity may have been regular occurrences at Tynecastle during Vladimir Romanov’s reign, but the rest of Scottish football is also far from rational, according to Craig Levein.
Outlining his plans for Hearts, the club’s new director of football explained that he believed the way in which clubs regularly change their managers is grossly wasteful in both financial and human terms.
With Romanov at the helm for the past decade, Hearts were among the worst offenders when it came to regularly dispensing with managers. While Ann Budge’s time as majority shareholder began with her bidding farewell to Gary Locke, she and Levein are convinced that from now on the club must have a plan of succession.
In the case of new first-team coach Robbie Neilson, that means that Levein shortly expects to appoint someone who will in time take over from the former full-back. In an ideal world that would be when Neilson leaves for a bigger post elsewhere, but whatever the circumstances of the departure, Levein is adamant that the new man has to be with the club, and familiar with its ways of working and playing staff, for some time before he makes the step up.
Such a notion of calm, controlled change may be unfamiliar to the majority of clubs, but Levein believes that the old example of the Liverpool boot room shows just how successful a planned succession can be. While making it clear that he did not believe he and his colleagues were of the same calibre as the likes of Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans, the former Scotland manager said he saw no reason why the same kind of scheme could not work in more modest surroundings.
“Since I’ve been in management I’ve been surprised at the randomness of how clubs select managers,” Levein said. “That’s kind of what started me thinking. The problem with becoming successful is that the manager quite often leaves. That’s the worst thing – when it works, the manager holds everything. That’s why people say managers have magic dust. It works well because of the individual and his personality and by how they control the players. But then when they leave and a new guy comes in, sometimes it gets better – but more often it gets worse. When I see a manager’s job come up and see who the six on the shortlist are, they are all completely different types of managers. That is madness. You must have an idea about what your football club is to become before you appoint a manager, but there is a kind of randomness about selecting managers.
“That’s how it started, then I began looking at what club has been the most successful at producing consecutive managers. For me, there is only one club who has done that and it’s Liverpool. It was a long time ago, but no other club has produced manager after manager after manager. That was no coincidence – they came from inside the club, knew the culture, knew the players and knew what success tasted like and how to replicate it. We will not be able to get the quality of people that Liverpool had, but who knows? We all know about coaching footballers, but there is no reason you can’t coach coaches and invest money and time in making people better.
“Will I be soon appointing Robbie’s successor? Yes. And Robbie knows that.”
Levein’s first big decision as director of football was to decide not to offer a job to Gary Locke, whose contract as manager had just come to an end. Typifying that decision as “unfair”, and emphasising how well Locke had worked under near-impossible circumstances, Levein explained that he simply saw Locke’s strengths as lying in management rather than coaching.
“It was horrible yesterday. I don’t want to sound trite at all – it was a lot worse for Gary. But I spoke to Gary through the season on numerous occasions and he asked my advice, and I encouraged him. The easiest thing to do would have been to give him the job. But there’s no point in having this clear idea of how we should in five years’ time be in a fantastic position – there’s no point having that and then saying ‘We’ll need to find a place for somebody because they did a great job last year’.
“Once the decision was made to go down this particular road – that was the point that Gary was not in the equation. If the club had gone down the other route – and you could name just about every club in Scotland who does it the same way: you get a manager, you see how he does, hope you can pick a good one next time, you get into this cycle of having to pay players off, then you get the manager saying ‘This is not my team’.
“This system does away with all that, because the next coach is in the system. He understands the players and what the team are trying to achieve. He understands the philosophy, the way the team plays. Therefore, financially this system must work better than the haphazard way of doing it. I’ve had this in my head for ten years anyway.
“Without a doubt it was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in football, because on a human level you equate what he’s had to go through this last season – an experienced manager would have struggled. He’s been dignified. He’s a young guy, he’s had his ups and downs, but he’s kept the fans and the media onside. If we say it’s about fairness, then I totally get the point that he deserves a chance. He’s done more than enough to get himself another manager’s job and I would suggest that’s the road that he goes down.
“Him coming in here as a coach within the system didn’t play to his strengths. Gary’s not going to write a coach-education programme for me. That’s not what he does. And that’s the job here – there’s coaching the first team and the tactical side of it, but also, so much bigger than that, it has to be about this original idea of building something from the top to the bottom. I’ve tried to do that every club I’ve been at. I’ve never been there long enough to get it all the way through, but I think it’s possible to develop players and coaches at the same time. There has to be a coach-education programme to do that.”