Ian Cathro is right to describe the furore over Craig Levein’s input at Hearts as “hysteria”, but there’s more he could be doing to quell the discontent, writes Craig Fowler
If you’ve been living in a cave for the past three days, here’s a brief summary of what occurred around the half-hour mark of Aberdeen’s Saturday lunchtime win over Hearts at Pittodrie.
Hearts’ Director of football Craig Levein was filmed talking to youth coach Jon Daly, who then proceeded to walk down the steps to the dugout and talk to the management team. Daly spoke with assistant Austin MacPhee, who presumably passed on the message to manager Ian Cathro.
The reaction to this story has been excessive to say the least, and proves Cathro’s point about how we ingest football in Scotland: we like stories more than the football itself. This is a prime example. Whatever Levein said was tactical, and yet no-one was really interest in what it actually was. If there’s a tactical angle or a soap opera angle to chase, it’s the latter every time.
Some people, and not just fans, are really getting their knickers in a twist over this. And yet it’s based on speculation. The aggravation comes from the assumption that this was an order from Levein. That he was telling Cathro exactly what to do.
It all stems from the mistrust of the director of football system, which is reaching levels of irrationality to rival the Salem Witch Trials. If someone is in power above the manager on the football side of the business then apparently he is telling the head coach exactly what to do.
Not necessarily. Stop for a second, forget about the optics and think about a possible alternative. Isn’t Levein capable of imparting advice during a match. Why does it have to be a direct order? If he’s saying to Jon Daly, for example, “tell Ian that Shay Logan has the freedom of the right wing, he needs to get Sam Nicholson to track him,” then what’s wrong with that? Cathro doesn’t have to immediately do what he says.
Speaking personally, my boss will sometimes give me an instruction, other times he’ll give advice. I’ll follow an order but I won’t always follow advice if I feel strongly that my idea is better. If Levein is giving Cathro orders on tactics and team selection, there’s a problem. But we don’t know for certain that’s the case. It’s jumping to conclusions based on little evidence, pure and simple.
Levein is not a Damien Comolli-type. He is someone who has played and managed at the top level, at least in Scotland anyway. He’s got a wealth of experience. He’s also at a higher vantage point. If you’re in the stands rather than on the touchline, it’s easier to comprehend the shape of both teams and where the space is. Pedro Caixinha had two coaches in the stands during Rangers’ 4-0 win over Hamilton. They would have been communicating with the head coach. What’s so wrong with a director of football doing the same? Levein has succeed at this very club before. Why wouldn’t Cathro want his input?
Having said all of that, Cathro had the opportunity to kill the story dead. He could have come out after the game and been clear and concise about exactly what the set up is at Hearts, and he failed to do so. This is the wider issue. People want to know how the structure at Hearts works. If it is explained properly and in detail they can dispel any demons about the director of football role.
What his response particularly egregious is that he gave a decent answer when asked about it on BT Sport. However, when he spoke to the press, he could barely have muddied the waters more if he’d tried. Instead of addressing the elephant in the room, i.e. Levein’s input, he talked at length about the help from his coaches. He focused on the Jon Daly aspect instead of the Craig Levein one.
Surely he must have known few were interested in what part Daly had to play in all of this. The consensus assumed he was the messenger, doing Levein’s bidding. That’s the question they wanted answered.
From what Cathro said, you could interpret his words as an explanation that Daly was in charge of communicating with the bench what he saw from the stands, as planned, and that Levein was just giving his take on proceedings. But he has to be clear about it.
Cathro waffles when talking to the press. He’s been harshly judged because of this. After all, he’s hardly the only manager to do so. It’s been unfairly assumed by some pundits that he talks to his players in the same manner, despite the fact very few managers do this. They are typically guarded when talking to the media. Some don’t say much at all; others talk at length so that anything revealing is lost in a sea of football jargon or buzzwords.
However, this was not the time for Cathro to do just that. The only way to get rid of the story was to be clear: “Levein offers advice, but he does not have final say. I do.” Instead, throughout the five minutes, he never even referred to the director of football once. Then, when asked about what Levein did at half-time when he went into the dressing room, he said there was “no space” because Pittodrie’s facilities are too small, before adding, a little more forthrightly but still cryptically: “if you were in my changing room you wouldn’t be opening your mouth.”
Again, this could suggest he’s the dominant presence in the changing room, and that Levein was there to observe or to give advice to him in private. But again, he failed to make it clear.
This story will continue to rumble on for as long as Hearts are struggling. And with Celtic coming to Tynecastle before a trip to McDiarmid Park, things are likely to get worse before they get better. In the interim, a club statement or, even better, Ian Cathro himself explaining to fans exactly what happened on Saturday would go a long way to clearing things up.