Hearts manager Craig Levein has applauded the man who will occupy the opposition technical area at Dens Park this afternoon, claiming that he is an example to others who are happy to simply carp from the sidelines without ever putting themselves in the line of fire.
“I say ‘good on him’,” said the Hearts boss. “He sat in front of a television camera for a long time and he was actually very good at it so I just think it’s a hugely brave decision to go from that comfortable environment, where you don’t really get questioned on the comments that you make. You don’t have to be in the arena competing. He has chosen to go from that comfortable, pretty easy lifestyle back into coaching and that is really brave. Really brave. There are some others who sit in their ivory towers and haven’t got the balls to go down and try it. Shame on them.”
A Sky pundit since 2009, McCann combined that with some coaching at Dunfermline for a few years but he was tempted back into day-to-day involvement last season when he took interim charge of Dundee as the Tayside team scrapped to avoid relegation. Having kept them in the top tier, the former Scotland winger was appointed on a permanent basis in the summer, claiming that the opportunity was too good to turn down.
He wasn’t the only one to swap a Sky job for one at the helm of a football club but the fact that Gary Neville’s doomed spell at Valencia prompted a hasty return to the TV studio underlines Levein’s assertion that managing is not as easy as it may seem.
“If you’ve got the juices flowing in you to still be involved, you should give it a go,” said Levein. “All credit to him for doing that. It’s easy to sit in a TV studio and talk about something that’s happened and what someone should have done but you never have to prove anything. So, good on Neil. I really admire him for having the balls to do it. But I hope he still gets beat!”
In Hearts’ only trip to Dens Park last term, they squandered a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2.
The belief in the Gorgie ranks is that there is more steel to their performances these days. In defence the experience of guys such as captain Christophe Berra and Aaron Hughes is complementing the ability of young John Souttar.
Long talked about as the future of Scotland’s defence, Souttar has been joined on the pedestal by Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna, Celtic’s Anthony Ralston and Rangers’ Ross McCrorie in recent weeks.
“It’s still early days and we’re still very young,” said Souttar. “I know how hard it can be when you’re put on a pedestal of being the next one. We’ve still got a lot of progressing and developing to do.
“I was thrown in very young but the people coming through now are at the age when you would normally come though. The three that have come in have done very well.
“I’ve played with Scott for years for the Scotland ages groups and he’s always been a top player so I’m delighted for him. Hopefully we can all kick on now. It can only be good for the country and the 21s squad as well.”
But the priority for Souttar remains delivering each and every game for Hearts. “As you’ve seen from the last three weeks, I think we’ve played well and maybe could have won the two draws,” he added. “I’m just wanting to learn, as you do from every manager. I’m trying to improve my game as much as I can.”