Craig Levein apologises to Hearts fans - but insists he could have avoided relegation if given more time

Former manager believes he would have revived Tynecastle side’s fortunes

Craig Levein feels he could have saved Hearts from relegation.

Craig Levein today apologised to Hearts fans following a disastrous relegation but insisted he could have turned things round at Tynecastle Park with more time.

Speaking for the first time since leaving the Edinburgh club on May 31, Levein took partial responsibility for a wretched 2019/20 campaign which culminated in demotion after the coronavirus shutdown.

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He was sacked as manager last October after more than two years in charge as his team fell to the foot of the Premiership. He worked in a background role at Riccarton until his contract expired last month.

Despite subsequent spells with Austin MacPhee and Daniel Stendel in charge, Hearts still sat bottom when the league was brought to a premature end in April.

They are now set to play in the Scottish Championship and Levein looked back on his second spell as manager of the club with great disappointment.

Supporters criticised him and called for his removal during demonstrations outside Tynecastle before owner Ann Budge relieved him of his duties.

“Some people think it’s all my fault. I can’t put my hands up and say I’m not responsible in any way, shape or form,” Levein told BBC Scotland.

“At the start of the season, we struggled. I can sit here and talk about the number of important players we had injured, but ultimately you are judged by your results.

“I do feel that, if I had stayed in place, we wouldn’t have been in the league position we are in because we had good players coming back from injury. What’s done is done, but I will look back on my time fondly with some fantastic memories.”

Levein intends to return to Hearts to watch matches both at senior and youth level having overseen the Riccarton academy in his director of football role.

“I don’t know about going back to the club [to work],” he said. “I will certainly go back and watch matches and, if I have time, go and watch some of the academy games to see how some of the kids are getting on.

“It’s been a really weird and strange season. A lot of things have happened that are out of the norm.

“I put as many hours and as much of my effort as I possibly could into working at Hearts and trying to make things better. I do think in time, we will see the benefits.

“The performance school we put in place at Balerno, I think we will see great young players coming out of that in time which will be able to help Hearts going forward. Maybe then some of the Hearts supporters might forgive me. You never know.”

When asked if he had a message for the fans, he replied: “I’m extremely sorry for the position the Hearts supporters find themselves in just now, but I can look back on it and say I did my best for Hearts. People will think that wasn’t good enough but I did my best.”

Levein also admitted that being both manager and director of football was too much when the first team was not performing well. He had been director of football since 2014 but, in 2017, Budge and the Hearts board asked him to take on the added role of succeeding Ian Cathro as manager.

“I got asked by the board if I would take the job,” explained Levein. “We had a round of interviews with four different people and the board, Ann in particular, weren’t happy with how each of the interviews went. Then they asked me if I would take the job.

“Looking back on it, it’s easy to say that maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew trying to do both jobs at the same time. It proved to be extremely difficult for me, particularly when we had problems on the field.

“Going back, would I have taken the job again? I probably would have but I would have had to give up my director of football role. I found that, when things were difficult, it was extremely difficult to do both jobs.”

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