Craig Levein: ‘This Hearts squad can win a trophy. Absolutely’

Ryan Edwards fires Hearts ahead in the second half but the goal wasn't enough to stop Celtic's treble-treble. Picture: SNS
Ryan Edwards fires Hearts ahead in the second half but the goal wasn't enough to stop Celtic's treble-treble. Picture: SNS
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Craig Levein has declared his intention to ‘have another go’ at winning silverware next season despite speculation over his future as Hearts manager.

Saturday’s Scottish Cup final defeat against Celtic at Hampden leaves Levein still searching for a first major trophy of his career as a player or manager.

The 54-year-old has one year remaining on his contract as Hearts boss but has attracted criticism from some of the club’s supporters this season for his team’s style of play.

But Levein, who is also director of football at Tynecastle, has targeted the summer addition of four new signings to a squad he is convinced can go on to win a trophy.

“My overriding feeling is one of intense frustration that we didn’t get something from the game on Saturday,” said Levein. “That makes me want to come back next year and have another go.

“Is there a trophy in this group of players? Absolutely. Absolutely. I take great heart from knowing what is happening at the club, the young players we’ve got coming through. There’s not just one or two, there’s dozens of them, in all honesty.

“That encourages me, whether I’m still here in three years’ time and these boys are playing 40 games a season, who knows? There’s a lot to be encouraged by.

“We only need four players this summer. I’m working on that just now. And young guys like Aaron Hickey and Harry Cochrane will be better next season as well. The future for the club is fantastic. I’m absolutely certain of that.

“A lot of work behind the scenes doesn’t get seen by the public. It’s only when Harry, or Hickey or Connor Smith come on, does that get promoted.”

Hearts owner Ann Budge stated before the cup final that Levein was ‘not bombproof’ as manager but the former Scotland boss believes their close working relationship continues to flourish at a club which emerged from administration five years ago.

“We work well together because there’s an honesty there,” added Levein. “Ann’s slightly different from most owners in that the plan from the beginning is what we’re doing now. Only in football does it seem that it’s right to make changes when what you set out to do from the beginning is starting to bear fruit.

“You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. You only see the first-team matches, but there’s a lot more and by the time the supporters take over the club in a couple of years, we’ll be solidly established as a top-four club.

“A lot of things have worked extremely well but in football you’re always judged by what’s happening in the first team. People think if the first team isn’t doing well then it’s the same throughout the company, but that’s not how it works.”

As pained as Levein was by the manner of Hearts’ 2-1 defeat against treble-treble winners Celtic, he was gratified by a performance which defied the predictions of many pundits, including Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd, who suggested the Gorgie side would suffer a thumping loss.

“I don’t listen to Kris Boyd very much – just like he didn’t listen to me when I was the Scotland manager,” said Levein,

“I understood that Celtic were heavy favourites for this match but the last couple of weeks, knowing I’d get Peter Haring and Arnaud Djoum back from injury, gave me some hope.

“Young Hickey and the energy of Ryan Edwards and the training we did gave me great hope that we had a performance in us that could possibly give us a chance of winning the game and I couldn’t have asked for any more.

“Okay, we made a couple of mistakes here and there but that’s normal in a football match. Celtic upped their game a little bit when we scored first. They were better once we scored and that 
happens sometimes. You think ‘wait a minute’.

“We weathered a little spell and I thought we’d just got through it when the penalty came for their equaliser. If we could have held on for a while longer, I felt we could have possibly won the match.

“I think teams are getting closer to Celtic. We’ve had our moments against them in recent seasons and so have other teams.

“I don’t want to talk too much about Celtic because what they do has nothing to do with me. But their domination will end if teams do well enough to beat them in the league and the cup competitions. We’ll be trying our best to do that.”