Craig Levein has just completed his first week of being out of work since he returned to the game as Hearts director of football in 2014. One can only hope – and fortunately, it seems likely – he has not spent it scrolling through Twitter.
The ticket office at Tynecastle experienced brisk business on Monday when it was confirmed Levein had finally left the club. Such has been the breakdown in relations between the former manager and many Hearts fans, several had resolved to wait until they knew their money was going to a Levein-free club before purchasing their season ticket. It is a level of pettiness at which football fans excel.
One supporter on Twitter even expressed his hope that Levein would not set foot in Tynecastle again. Even the club’s website did not dare bid him the kind of farewell that might have been expected for a legendary player and two-times manager, whose total length of service amounts to nearly a quarter of a century.
His departure could not have been marked more matter-of-factly. He was bundled into a list with others whose contracts had expired the same day, including youth and reserve-team players.
“Oliver Bozanic, Clevid Dikamona, Jay Nwanze, Brodie Strang, Craig Levein, Austin MacPhee and Jack Wilson have all left the club following the expiration of their contracts,” a statement confirmed, before going on to wish them all well for the future.
Levein may well curse his own belligerence. The whole idea when he came back on board as director of football was to implement a bootroom-succession policy of the sort that once served Liverpool so well. His return to the dugout following Ian Cathro’s hasty removal was an early glitch in these plans. Levein might have salvaged the concept had he stepped down following the Scottish Cup final defeat by Celtic last year and passed the mantle to someone like MacPhee, who could have had a whole pre-season to settle into the position.
We will see him again in a Hearts dugout, but only when the eagerly-awaited docuseries charting the club’s season airs later this summer. Some painful afternoons and evenings will have to be re-lived, including the night in Perth when defeat prompted Ann Budge to say enough is enough. It will cover Levein’s sacking and that strange chapter when he remained at Riccarton to help implement improvements to the sports science department. This was for a future in which he knew he would have no part.
People say he is thick skinned but, by his own admission, this is not the case. After being sacked by Scotland, Levein admitted he was bruised. He briefly considered moving to Australia, Frank Haffey-style.
He returned to the fray eventually and let’s not forget, he did so with more than a degree of success. Hearts were promoted while he was director of football and then, after his return to the dugout, spent some time at the top of the league in autumn 2018.
Let’s not rewrite history to the extent of branding this latest period at Hearts as a complete disaster. Levein has no plans to drift into early retirement. It seems surprising, given he has packed in so much, that he is still only 55 years old. That is younger than Tommy Wright, and no-one is retiring him yet. Indeed, the former St Johnstone manager, at 56, is being linked with multiple posts – including Hearts.
It is understood Levein remains keen to work again. An added bonus, and something which was not the case when he experienced that period of doldrums post-Scotland, is that he is now qualified to apply for twice as many vacant positions: director of football roles as well as those of manager.
He may have to go abroad in the first instance, something he was open to doing before joining forces with Budge at Tynecastle. While it might be a case of severed ties at Hearts, one thing seems sure: we have not seen the last of Craig Levein.
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