Craig Levein has defended his right to speak out on behalf of Hearts as his row with Celtic captain Scott Brown continued yesterday.
The Tynecastle manager hinted that Brown deliberately got himself cautioned against Kilmarnock last weekend so he would not miss next month’s game with Rangers.
This led to Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers accusing Levein of being “obsessed” with the Celtic skipper but the Hearts boss insists he is simply sticking up for the club, himself, his players.
A series of outspoken comments have riled rivals, notably Neil Lennon, Brown and Rodgers but Levein says he has had his fill of people having a dig at Hearts.
“I’m not trying to annoy people. That’s a 100 per cent not the case,” the Hearts manager said. “I just don’t like hearing and reading stuff that, for me, is not true. That’s just the way it is.”
The most recent war of words, between Levein and Brown, began when the former called on referees to offer players more protection from the experienced midfielder.
After Brown was booked in his side’s defeat by Kilmarnock on Saturday, the 32-year-old blamed the Hearts boss, saying his comments had made him a marked man. But, yesterday, Levein ridiculed that suggestion.
“I think it’s a nonsense, him pointing out that he got booked on Saturday because I made a point of saying he gets away with more than most. I actually believe that,” Levein said.
“I looked at his disciplinary record and saw that he was on five bookings, and worked out that getting booked against Kilmarnock means he misses St Johnstone [on 18 February] – but plays against Rangers [on 11 March]. I kind of put two and two together. And I think I’ve come up with four.
“It happens all the time. And, of course, I did it. If there was a Hibs game coming up and one more booking got you a suspension, you would take the booking, miss a game before that so you could play in the big game. It happens all the time. It happens at international level.
“Managers tell players to get booked. ‘Make sure you get booked in this game – because I want you available for this other match’. I can’t say for sure that’s what happened on this occasion. And I must stress that. But I’m saying it does happen.
“And it is slightly more likely than a referee being influenced by my comments. Because I don’t think they would be influenced.”
While Rodgers did not deny Levein’s claims, he did hit back at his counterpart accusing him of being “fairly obsessed by our captain. It is a credit to Scott that you’ve got another manager, who is not even playing against him, talking about him. I don’t think you need to say any more”.
But Brown has not been the only one caught in Levein’s sights since he returned to the dugout earlier this season and it is not the first time that Hearts and Celtic have had words, with interim boss Jon Daly telling Rodgers to keep his nose out of club business at the start of the season.
Levein has also hit out at pundit and harsh critic Michael Stewart and angered Hibernian by stating he is out to “restore natural order” following the recent derby triumph but he is adamant that he is simply calling things as he sees them.
“I do feel strongly about standing up for this club. That hasn’t changed in any way,” said the man who added the managerial job to his role as director of football earlier in the campaign.
“I felt previously that it wasn’t my role to defend the club in the media [when he was solely director of football]. But I do feel that when I’m in this role, and I did when I was here in the past, that it is my job.”
Levein said he would not temper his views if people continued to poke him and the club with the proverbial stick.
“It’s as simple as that. If people don’t say anything that I feel is unjust, I’m not interested.
“I’m only interested if I feel that people are having a go at the club for no apparent reason.”