Craig Levein on departure of Neilson and where next for Hearts

Hearts director of football Craig Levein speaks to the media ahead of tomorrow's clash with Ross County. Picture: SNS

Hearts director of football Craig Levein speaks to the media ahead of tomorrow's clash with Ross County. Picture: SNS

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Hearts director of football Craig Levein says the club are looking for a “young and energetic” coach to replace MK Dons-bound Robbie Neilson.

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Hearts accepted a compensation offer for Neilson on Thursday night and Under-20s coaches Jon Daly and Andy Kirk will take charge of the team for Saturday’s Ladbrokes Premiership clash with Ross County in Dingwall.

Newcastle assistant coach Ian Cathro is the runaway favourite but the Edinburgh club have not yet made any approaches for a new head coach.

However, Levein is hopeful of getting someone in place before the Jambos play Rangers at Ibrox on December 10 along with an assistant, as Stevie Crawford is also moving to Milton Keynes.

Speaking at a media conference at Hearts’ training base, Levein said: “I’m not going to get involved in talking about individuals. Ian is a friend of mine but he is employed by another club, so I don’t want to talk about him.

“The profile hasn’t changed from Robbie really. We are looking for a young, intelligent, energetic, enthusiastic coach who can help us move on from where we are. And that’s the key, to try to get someone in who can improve us.”

Levein and 30-year-old Cathro worked together at Dundee United, and Neilson played under the former Scotland manager at several clubs, but the Hearts director of football insists an existing relationship is not a prerequisite.

“I don’t think that’s vital,” said Levein, who revealed they had received a number of interesting applications already.

“The structure is important. There are two positions obviously which we need to fill. With Jon and Any taking the team, it gives me a bit of space to look for a successor.”

When asked if he was surprised Neilson had swapped a team in second spot in Scotland for a move to the lower reaches of Sky Bet League One, Levein was diplomatic.

“Robbie’s a very logical person,” he said. “He has always said he wanted to manage at the top level down in England. He explained to me that he felt if he could go down to England in a good, stable job and do a good job there, then he would have a better chance of getting a higher level club. He saw that as his pathway. Whether I agree with him or not is almost irrelevant.

“I don’t want to be disrespectful to MK Dons because they have a bigger stadium than us and they have the potential to be a good team. He goes with my best wishes.

“I have a lot of admiration for him and on a personal level I really like him. He’s a good guy and the amount of work he put in here to help get us back to a position where we should be, I will be eternally grateful. I think the Hearts fans and certainly the board of directors are as well.”

Levein claimed there was little point trying to persuade the 36-year-old to stay.

“Once you have made your mind up you want to do something... and I don’t know if you know Robbie but he is very much his own man,” he said.

“And at some point we had an idea this would happen so at least we have been able to work away behind the scenes and make it as seamless a transition as possible.”

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