Celtic dominance makes spying worthless for Hearts’ Craig Levein

Hearts manager Craig Levein, left, discusses strategy with assistant Austin MacPhee. Picture: SNS.
Hearts manager Craig Levein, left, discusses strategy with assistant Austin MacPhee. Picture: SNS.
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Hearts manager Craig Levein has acknowledged that Celtic are so far ahead of the rest of Scottish football that his spying mission at Hamilton last Friday was a waste of time.

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His Tynecastle side make the trip to the Superseal stadium tomorrow, but Levein concedes he learned nothing new from Accies’ 4-1 defeat by Brendan Rodgers’ side.

Four days later, he watched how the domestic gulf is being replicated at European level as PSG, including £364 million pair Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, ran riot on their way to winning 5-0 in a Champions League clash at Parkhead.

While the former Scotland manager appreciates the difficulty Celtic counterpart Rodgers faces in trying to bridge the growing chasm between Celtic and the elite clubs on the continent, Levein’s priority is on leading Hearts to victory at Hamilton.

He said: “I went to watch Hamilton on Friday against Celtic. Certain things come back and I’m thinking ‘why am I watching this?’ Watching anybody playing against Celtic does not look like what is going to happen in our game.

“There was a point when it looked like they might go under but they hung in there and they had moments in the game when they played well.”

Levein aims to kickstart Hearts’ season with a win at Hamilton after being denied a winning return to the dugout in Saturday’s goalless draw with Abeeen by a Joe Lewis goalkeeping masterclass.

Levein added: “I’m still disappointed we never won the game, that will never change.

“There was a lot of good stuff that we could use and have used this week.

“We need wins, it’s a simple game – you need to win. We intend to do our best to win the game on Saturday but we have to recognise that our record through there is not particularly good and it will be a tough match. It will be a fight, but it always is. We have to go and be prepared for that.”

Hearts do not return to the redeveloped Tynecastle until 5 November when the visit of Kilmarnock will mark the start of seven straight games in Gorgie.

With seven games to negotiate before then, including two at Murrayfield against St Johnstone and Rangers, Levein is desperate for his side to keep in touch with their rivals for European football.

He added: “We want to win the game on Saturday. We want to keep chipping away, hang in there and get into a position where we’ve got a chance to finish with a flourish.

“We have to develop a different mindset to normal.

“It’s recognising what we need to do. It’s maybe not going to be pretty at times, but we just have to compete and fight and try to win games.

“We can’t rely on draws away from home and assume that we are going to win all our home games. We can’t do that.”

As Scotland manager, Levein faced the challenge of setting up teams to face some of the best players on the planet.

However, in the wake of Celtic’s defeat by the French giants, Levein recognises that Scottish football is facing a struggle to compete with the cream of Europe at club level.

He added: “They were playing one of the best teams, maybe the favourites for the Champions League. The best team in the world maybe.

“It’s not something Celtic experience very often.

“I’m sure that Brendan [Rodgers] would say that the more often they play against teams like that the more comfortable they will feel in that environment.

“I think the gap is growing.

“Because football is global now the best players are going to the teams with the most money.

“Part of that is really exciting, you see the quality of PSG and see how other teams cope with that.

“But even though Celtic are big guns here, Scottish football financially is well behind even the lower leagues in England.

“I don’t know what the recent television deal was but it seems to have been pretty high.”

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