Craig Levein says that shutting out off-field negativity is the only way he is going to succeed in getting the results he needs to win over frustrated fans.
The Hearts boss takes his team to Hampden tomorrow for their second semi-final of the season and accepts that all the pressure is on the Gorgie outfit as they look to beat Inverness Caledonian Thistle to book a place in the Scottish Cup final and also win over a section of the Hearts support that appears to have lost faith in the manager.
Alongside some wild rumours of his impending departure, there were also some highly audible criticisms of Levein during last weekend’s loss to Hibs, with some fans calling for him to be sacked. But, laughing off bemusing chatter of him swapping the SPFL for a new life in Spain, he said that rather than worry about what is happening behind him on match days, he prefers to concentrate on what is happening in the game.
“I’m trying to stay focused on the thing that actually matters. The years have taught me that if you get distracted and try to think about what other people are shouting then it takes your eye off what is actually happening on the park.
“I do tend to block these things out because I am focused on how we can get better from last week to this week and dwelling on the fact that this guy is unhappy, or that guy is unhappy doesn’t really help in that. I’m better focusing on other things and then I can influence how the fans feel by the team winning.
“The fact we played at Partick in the cup and we were 1-0 up and they were singing ‘there’s only one Craig Levein’, and then five minutes later they are all booing the life out of me. That, for me, is how it works and sometimes it’s not even about how you play, it is about whether you are winning or losing. It couldn’t be any more black and white than that. Winning, they are happy, losing, they’re not.
“My first job in management was at Cowdenbeath and I remember standing at Lesser Hampden with 400 people inside the stadium and you would be lucky if 50 of them were Cowdenbeath fans but they were all singing: ‘you don’t know what you’re doing?’
“That is the worst feeling but it prepares you for anything in football management.
“The stuff in the stadium last Saturday I can blank out. Our supporters were really happy because we were on top, playing really well and then winning but when it goes one-each and then we lose the second goal, they were really unhappy. That is the way it works and I understand that but I don’t hear the noise as there is so much going on that I have to stay focused on.”
With hindsight he concedes that those early taunts at Cowdenbeath were probably deserved but insists that he has evolved.
“I didn’t know what I was doing [to begin with] but I did by the time I got them promoted.
“What I have realised over the years is that the only way you can have an influence on what is happening behind you is by focusing on what is in front of you. To deal with that, you have to blank the rest out.
“Thinking about what is behind you for any length of time is a waste of time. The focus is very, very much on what is happening on Saturday.”