Craig Levein praises Neil McCann for learning ropes in public glare

Hearts manager Craig Levein praised Dundee counterpart Neil McCann for learning the job in the spotlight and revealed he wants to make Steven Naismith's loan deal permanent. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
Hearts manager Craig Levein praised Dundee counterpart Neil McCann for learning the job in the spotlight and revealed he wants to make Steven Naismith's loan deal permanent. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
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Craig Levein’s inconspicuous apprenticeship at Cowdenbeath was invaluable to his development as a manager. The current Hearts boss claimed yesterday that even the local journalist sometimes neglected to report on the fortunes of the Blue Brazil.

That lack of spotlight allowed Levein, fresh from a storied career as a player but a dugout rookie, to earn his spurs between 1997 and 2000, and make career-shaping mistakes without the danger of being pilloried.

So he has nothing but respect for the efforts of Dundee manager Neil McCann, who continues to learn on the job after making the courageous decision 11 months ago to swap a cushy gig in the Sky Sports studio for the fraught life of a manager.

It has been far from plain sailing for the former Hearts winger, whose well-known feisty side landed him a two-match touchline ban – which Dundee are appealing – for a bust-up with St Johnstone goalkeeper Zander Clark after a 4-0 defeat on 10 March.

Nevertheless, Levein reckons McCann will thrive once he has navigated a baptism of fire at Dens.

“If he can get through this season and do well then I think he’ll kick on,” said Levein, pictured below. “The beginning is the hardest bit, getting used to the whole thing and working everything out. I was fortunate that I did my apprenticeship at Cowdenbeath where there were 250 people watching.

“You could hear everything but there was also only one journalist – sometimes he was there, sometimes he couldn’t be bothered! I could make my mistakes and get away with it.

“So it was a brave move to come out of the Sky box into the dugout. In one of those places you need to work out what is going to happen before it happens, in the other one you can wait until it happens then say whatever s**** you like! It’s difficult to do one of those, anyone can do 
the other.”

On McCann’s recent indiscretion, Levein smiled: “He did well to get involved in a fight at Dundee because the dugouts are that far apart! If it was Tynecastle I would understand it.”

While securing top-six football is the immediate priority for Hearts, Levein is already looking towards next season and is already in talks with three potential new signings. Although he distanced himself from reports linking Hearts with Queen of the South winger Lyndon Dykes, he is pulling out all the stops to make several of their loan deals permanent.

It is understood that securing the permanent arrivals of Steven Naismith, Joaquim Adao, Demi Mitchell, whose stay from Manchester United was cut short through injury, are key priorities, while David Milinkovic and Conor Randall have also impressed.

“The loan ones are more complicated but we have made some inroads,” Levein revealed. “You have to deal with the parent clubs and a lot of the time they haven’t got their individual plan for the player sorted out yet.

“There’s a complication there because the player needs to want to come, the agent needs to be on board and then you also need the club to make the decision and we need to want to keep them.

“So there’s four things going on there. Steven Naismith is definitely one we are interested in keeping.”

Dundee captain Darren O’Dea believes former team-mate Jack Hendry’s self-belief can help him become a top player for Celtic and 
Scotland.

The 22-year-old defender, who arrived at Dens Park last summer from Wigan, departed for Celtic on a four-and-a-half-year deal at the end of January and received widespread praise after making his Scotland debut in Tuesday’s 1-0 win in Hungary.

O’Dea, 31, liked what he saw in the fellow defender, who claimed after winning his first cap in Budapest that: “Maybe some people think it’s happened quicker (than expected) but I always believed I would get to this point.”

O’Dea said of Hendry: “He is borderline arrogant. He has an ego but top players need it. You need it at a club like Celtic and believe me when things don’t go right there you will need all that bravado.

“I probably had it when I was his age. I thought I could beat the world and thought no-one was right but me.

“That drive you had and that focus, as long as it is on the right side, can be fantastic, it can be a massive strength and he certainly has a lot of belief in himself.

“He is at a fantastic club but a lot of credit needs to go to Dundee, who gave him a chance when he had stalled a bit for whatever reason.

“I hopes he goes on and has a good career with Scotland. He is young enough and he has got everything you would want in a modern-day centre-back.”