Robbie Neilson: I have final say on Hearts team

Head coach Robbie Neilson has rubbished claims that director of football Craig Levein picks the Hearts team. Pic: SNS

Head coach Robbie Neilson has rubbished claims that director of football Craig Levein picks the Hearts team. Pic: SNS

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Robbie Neilson has dismissed all talk that Hearts director of football Craig Levein is influencing team affairs.

The head coach stressed that team selection, tactics and recruitment are all his responsibility.

Former Hearts players Michael Stewart and Gary Mackay suggested earlier this week that the Edinburgh side’s playing style is more in keeping with tactics employed by Levein during his managerial days. Neilson strongly refuted the notion.

Hearts are seeking their first win in five games tomorrow against Inverness. They lost in Europe to Maltese club Birkirkara and to Celtic in the league before exiting the League Cup against St Johnstone. Last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Pittodrie brought their first league point of the new campaign.

Neilson believes those results might have fuelled theories about Levein’s influence from disgruntled fans and pundits.

“The team is always evolving and it has evolved this season,” he explained. “We’ve changed our style, changed it a bit, to give the players we’re bringing in a better opportunity to flourish. If you don’t get results, you will get stick. That never changes. It was my team for the last two years and we were doing great. People are now saying that, overnight, it has changed. Believe me, it hasn’t. I’ve always been honest about how it works here. I just think the structure we have here can be difficult for people to understand, people who have been set in their ways, anyway. With them it goes chairman, manager, end of story. Teams and clubs are building different structures. Look at the teams down in England, where they have some phenomenal structures, owners, boards, CEOs, everything, director of football, sporting director. As clubs grow, it takes more to run them. But, ultimately, as the first-team coach or head coach, you’ve got to have total control over the first team. My role is the first team and everything that goes on in the first team, from recruitment, team selection, tactics, playing, everything.”

Hearts’ management structure sees owner Ann Budge working with Levein, who oversees the entire football department in his director of football role. Neilson is accountable for first-team matters. He won the Championship and then guided Hearts into the Europa League qualifiers in his first two years in management.

“We have had two great seasons but now we have had a couple of bad results and people are always going to have something to say because it is different,” continued Neilson. “Gone are the days when it was the local butcher that takes over the club and it is just him and the manager. There is now an infrastructure there and this is a huge club. We’ve had great success in the last two years, and Craig is a great sounding board for me. I would be crazy not to ask someone with his experience and knowledge for advice.

“However, when you have a couple of bad results, people will start looking for reasons behind it. We have to accept that. This is a big club and the three previous games have been good, without getting results. But I know it’s a results business and, if you don’t get results, you take the flak that goes with that.”

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