Citing the closing days of the transfer window and players being away on international duty, returning Hearts manager Craig Levein admitted that he has not had much time to work with the squad on the training pitch ahead of tomorrow’s visit of Ladbrokes Premiership leaders Aberdeen.
However, the former Scotland manager’s message to a group of players bereft of confidence following Ian Cathro’s ill-fated eight-month reign will not need much explaining.
“It’s about not over-complicating things, making the training a little bit simpler – until everybody feels they know what they’re doing,” said Levein. “Once they reach that point and get their confidence, we can start again.
“Everything at the moment is a thought process, rather than just off the cuff. So we need to get to a point where people are just playing – and not thinking too much.”
Thinking too much and not focusing on their feet was a factor in Hearts winning only eight games during Cathro’s 30-game spell in charge.
Levein, in his role as director of football, was responsible for hiring Cathro, pictured below, so, naturally, refrained from directly pinning the blame for the team’s malaise on the 31-year-old coach.
Football may have evolved since Levein’s first spell in the Hearts dugout, which brought successive third-place finishes in the top flight. But the 52-year-old insists the fundamentals remain the same.
Levein, who has not taken charge of a team since leaving his Scotland post in 2012, said: “Things have changed slightly in the way teams play. But not so much that the important things have become redundant.
“Everybody has their own ideas about how they want a team to play. Robbie [Neilson] had different ideas from me, Ian had different ideas from me. My ideas have always been the same. But my role previously was to support their ideas – because maybe their ideas were better than mine. So that’s what I did.
“Now I have the opportunity to put my own ideas into place. It’s not rocket science. But I believe that it works.”
When it was put to Levein that his style of football, perceived as being direct, had many detractors, he replied: “Listen, that’s Scottish football, eh? You are going to get criticism.
“I firmly believe in certain things. When your team is not doing well the supporters want you to win. Once you’re winning they want you to play well – so let’s get to the bit where they want us to win. Then I’ll be happy.
“There’s a good squad here, for sure, but we’re not seeing the sum of that. We’re not seeing everybody contributing to make us better than what the individual names say we should be.
“That’s where we need to get to. We’ve got some good players but it’s the team unity that makes us better than what we are.”
Levein will kick off his second spell at BT Murrayfield on Saturday afternoon as work continues on the club’s new £14 million main stand at Tynecastle. He oversaw a 3-1 Uefa Cup victory over Portuguese side Braga at the 67,100 capacity stadium in 2004 shortly before moving to Leicester City. With around 7,000 Dons supporters expected, Levein is looking forward to the challenge.
“I’ve got good memories of it, although I must admit I can’t remember much about it,” said Levein. “But the stadium is fantastic. Aberdeen have sold a lot of tickets and we have too. There will be over 20,000 reaching up to about 25,000, which is a fantastic place to be and I believe they’ve cordoned off the top half of the stadium. So the atmosphere should be good. Aberdeen have always brought a really good travelling support to Tynecastle and they’ll be very vocal, I’m sure. I know our supporters will be as well.”
Levein was complimentary towards Derek McInnes, his Aberdeen counterpart having masterminded three successive runners-up finishes in the Premiership.
The Pittodrie club are the early pacesetters with a 100 per cent record after four games, and Levein admits they are arguably even stronger despite the summer departures of Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn.
He added: “I’m a huge admirer of Derek and I actually like him, he’s a decent fella. He’s done a remarkable job.
“The interesting thing for me is they are in transition as well.
“If you look at the players who moved on in the summer you could argue the players they have brought in are better. Whether the fit is right with what they were doing previously, I don’t know.
“It’s a huge credit to them that while they are doing that they are winning games. That for me tells a big story.”