Hearts manager Robbie Neilson pays own personal tribute to Walter Smith

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson has paid tribute to Walter Smith, describing him as “one of the best Scotland’s ever had” and he believes that his influence on the game will endure thanks to the impact he has had on so many of the current managers and on the men who will eventually follow behind.

“It’s really sad news to hear and it’s come as a bit of a shock. Walter was absolutely brilliant for me. He gave me my [Scotland] debut and I spoke to him regularly.

“He was one of the few giants of Scottish football, I would say. No matter what team you were affiliated to or supported, you respected Walter and it’s a sad day for everyone in Scottish football.

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“Walter did a lot of work with the Pro Licence as well so he would speak to a group of 10 or 15 managers and everyone got to know him and he would keep in contact. When you met him out and about you could speak to him so he’s had a massive influence on the game.

Robbie Neilson made his Scotland debut in 2006.

“And if you look at his record, it’s phenomenal. The clubs he’s been at, whether it’s as assistant or manager, probably outwith Sir Alex Ferguson he’s one of the best Scotland’s ever had.”

In a country which has churned out great managers, including the likes of Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, and Ferguson, Smith is the latest to leave a lasting legacy, impressing north and south of the border, as well as making his mark at international level.

And, it was in a Euro 2008 qualifier against Ukraine in 2006 that he provided Neilson with his one and only Scotland cap.

“It’s an honour to play for your country and he’s the guy who gave me that opportunity. I’ll always be grateful for that,” said the Gorgie gaffer.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson said he will always be grateful to Walter Smith. Photo by Euan Cherry / SNS Group

“He was straight to the point. He’d tell you you’re playing and that’s it, and you’d just go out and do your thing; he trusted people.

“I had a lot of time for Walter. He was a brilliant guy and straight down the middle, and whenever you met him he would always give you time as well. It’s a sad day.”

Hailing him as “a giant of Scottish football”, Neilson said he was sure he would get the respect he deserves as a person as well as a football man who was still taking in lower league games even after he had quit management.

“Yes, I used to see him quite a lot. I would see him at some of the Dumbarton games when I went down there in the Championship.

“He was good to speak to. He would blether away about things, about football and different things. He would always have time for you.

“It was just blethering. You know what it’s like, managers speak to each other and have a chat about things and it was just nice that Walter was there for you to talk to.

“I’m very friendly with Alex Smith from my time at Falkirk and the two of them were very tight, so I could speak to Walter through him, and the two of them have been great for me throughout my career.

“It’s a sad day.”

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