Hearts’ Ann Budge to finalise new league reconstruction plan by Friday

Club owner in talks with counterparts across country in bid to gain support for formal proposal

Hearts owner Ann Budge is working on a new league model based on extending the Premiership from 12 to 14, or possibly 16 teams. Picture: SNS

Hearts owner Ann Budge plans to finalise a league reconstruction proposal by the end of this week and circulate it to clubs across the Scottish Professional Football League.

Budge’s priority above all else is devising a restructuring model which would expand the Premiership from 12 to 14 or potentially 16 teams, thus keeping Hearts in Scotland’s top flight.

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The Edinburgh club suffered an enforced relegation to the Championship on Monday when the SPFL board ratified the termination of season 2019-20 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Budge is now talking to fellow owners and chief executives across all four divisions to garner opinions on reconstruction. She intends to note all feedback and concerns to ensure whatever formal paper she puts forward is as robust and thorough as possible in order to stand the best chance of approval.

She would need to submit a members’ resolution for league reconstruction to the SPFL, which would then require a vote from all 42 clubs.

To pass, it would need 11 of the 12 Premiership clubs to vote in favour, plus eight in the Championship and 15 in total across League 1 and League 2. Hearts would be voting as a Championship side with their top-flight place taken by promoted Dundee United.

The Edinburgh businesswoman hopes clubs will at least look at a strategy for change after Premiership teams stated earlier this month that they would not 
discuss the issue during the coronavirus crisis.

That led to the collapse of the league reconstruction task force, led by Budge and the Hamilton vice-chair Les Gray, only two weeks after it was formed with the SPFL board’s blessing.

Budge was left frustrated that many in Scotland’s top division were unwilling to consider a restructure but she is now more hopeful of a rethink.

Whether she can garner sufficient support, particularly among the top 12, remains to be seen.

Stranraer and Partick Thistle were relegated from the Championship and League 1 respectively as a result of the decision to bring this season to a premature end.

They and several others will back Budge in her reconstruction attempts but it is those in the Premiership whose votes would be most crucial because of the 11-1 majority needed.

Budge is working tirelessly this week in the hope of being ready with her plan by Friday, if not before. She is eager to retrieve the situation after a wretched campaign in which Hearts won only four of 30 league games before Scottish football was shut down on 13 March .

They languished at the bottom of the league at that stage, four points adrift of second-bottom Hamilton.

With 24 points still available across the remaining eight matches, they remained hopeful of surviving had the fixture list been completed. Budge firmly believes no club should suffer punishment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and is not yet giving up hope of staying in the 
Premiership.

She is aware that the significant funds spent by Hearts in recent seasons under former manager Craig Levein should have ensured they were nowhere near the foot of the table. Levein was sacked last October and Budge stands accused of leaving him in the job too long before finally taking action. He left Hearts bottom of the league and Daniel Stendel took charge in December, although form did not improve.

Reconstruction would be the simplest remedy to the mess from a Tynecastle perspective. That is Budge’s preferred option but, should it fail to materialise, she would then look at the possibility of legal action against the SPFL over the decision to send Hearts and others down a division.

She has put reconstruction top of her agenda for the moment and does not plan to discuss Stendel’s contract until she is certain which league Hearts will play in 
next season.

He and Budge initially planned to speak once the SPFL had officially called a halt to the 2019-20 campaign. The German’s existing deal was due to run until summer 2022, but he is now technically a free agent after relegation was confirmed as his existing deal is only valid in Scotland’s top league.

Stendel is currently at home in Hannover awaiting the outcome of Budge’s push for a league restructure of some sort. He wants to see clarity on which division the club will play in to ensure talks on his future can be as straightforward as possible.

His coaching staff, assistant Jorg Sievers and coach Dale Tonge, are also waiting to learn their fate.

Stendel, 46, joined Hearts last December to replace Levein, the former manager and director of football being shunted into a background role by Budge.

The former Barnsley coach has had to work on scouting and recruitment due to the absence of a sports director at Riccarton and would like more support in those departments if he is to stay on.

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