Just over a year ago Neilson, pictured below, was in charge at Tynecastle and doing a good enough job to be head-hunted by the English League One club. Now Levein – the current manager of an in-form, steely Hearts side – is assessing where next for the man he once regarded as Scotland’s top up-and-coming young coach.
Looking to extend a ten-match unbeaten run at Hamilton Accies tonight, fresh from a first victory over local rivals Hibs in ten attempts, Levein was reluctant to comment further on his post-victory comments on Sunday, when he chirruped about Hearts restoring the “natural order”, but agreed to reflect on Neilson’s predicament. He is confident the 37-year-old will return all the better for the experience, as he did following a similarly short-lived spell at Leicester City. Levein was sacked from the then Championship club 12 years ago tomorrow and bounced back to the extent that he was appointed manager of his country three years later.
“He is a hungry boy and a bright lad and I would certainly recommend him for jobs,” said Levein. “That’s kind of the way it works. He did a good job up here, so someone up here will think ‘he can do a job for us’.
“It is difficult to go down to England and go down to a league you do not know an awful lot about without having much experience. I found that myself. When I went to Leicester it was just a bigger thing all together. Not knowing the league, the players and having to very quickly get up to speed on that, it’s very difficult. I think Robbie is a fantastic manager. I have been back and forth on texts with him and I will give him a call later today.
“It doesn’t seem like it now but it will help him, providing he can reflect on what happened and what he did and how he can do better. I am really disappointed for him. He is a lovely boy and I can see it as a blip on his managerial career. He needs to come back stronger and better.
“I went down to the Championship and it took me ages to work out – which is stupid really – that you need someone who is brilliant at taking set pieces and you need to spend an hour working on them, not only attacking them but defending them.”
“Then there’s recruitment – what type of players you need to be successful in that league. When you are up in Scotland and you know everyone and you know the players and how the managers play, I am not saying it is easy, but it easier than jumping into another league.”
Levein wouldn’t be fretting about personnel problems ahead of tonight’s clash with Hamilton Accies had his younger apprentice not been lured to Milton Keynes.
The manager has concerns over players who played the full 90 minutes of Sunday’s tempestuous derby when perhaps they hadn’t expected to last the course, such as new loan signings Steven Naismith and man-of-the-match Demetri Mitchell. The latter reflected yesterday on his debut and claimed he was expecting an even more bruising test.
“People were telling me how physical the game was going to be and how frantic it was going to be,” said Mitchell.
“It was definitely frantic, but I didn’t think it was as physical as people said it would be. It was quick and a lot different to under-23 football. The way people were talking, I was expecting to be coming up against The Rock or something! But it was okay. We’ve got some good players who like to play football as well as mixing that with the physical, so I enjoyed it.”
The 21-year-old full-back will experience an intense contrast at Hamilton’s Superseal stadium. Not just going from a full house at Tynecastle to a stadium with three sides, a synthetic pitch and perhaps as few as 4,000 watching, but going to this from Old Trafford, where he made his Manchester United debut against Crystal Palace in May.
“There were 75,000 at Old Trafford, it was full that day,” he recalled.
“At under-23 level we don’t play in big stadiums, we sometimes play in tiny places where there’s not much of a crowd. So it doesn’t make too much of a difference to me.”