John Robertson, the legendary Hearts goalscorer, spoke candidly yesterday of the great burden of expectation weighing on Tynecastle manager Craig Levein as he seeks to deliver the first major trophy of the Ann Budge era.
Robertson, who is preparing his Inverness Caledonian Thistle team for a Scottish Cup semi-final giant-killing attempt on the club he served with distinction, insisted there was no imminent threat to Levein’s job despite an upswell of unhappiness among the Gorgie faithful.
But the Inverness manager also drew an eerie parallel between his close friend’s current season and the backdrop to his own dismissal as Hearts manager 14 years ago under notorious Lithuanian chairman Vladimir Romanov.
Back then, Robertson, like Levein this year, had guided Hearts to two national cup semi-finals, while his team languished as also-rans in the lower reaches of the top six.
“Craig will be hurting,” Robertson acknowledged. “He is probably not where he wants to be in the league, but they have reached the semi-final of the League Cup and the Scottish Cup. The same happened 14 years ago. They finished fifth and the manager got sacked. I know that because it was me.
“I don’t think he’s under any pressure whatsoever. He will ride out the storm and regroup in the summer, bringing in new players, whatever happens on Saturday. There’s nothing I see in Craig’s mannerisms that suggests he is not going to be there next year.”
Robertson, with a lengthy playing, coaching and commercial background, is entwined in Tynecastle folklore like Saturday’s opposing manager. Without having discussed it directly, he has an instinctive feel for his past team-mate’s wants and desires for the club.
“I know how much it would mean to Craig to lead Hearts into a cup final and to win the Scottish Cup with Hearts,” Robertson said. “I have to try and stop him because I want to win it with Inverness. If there is the one thing missing from Craig’s CV, playing football – where he was cruelly robbed by injury – and as manager, it is that lack of a trophy.
“That doesn’t mean he is a bad manager because he isn’t. He has been the Scotland boss and managed clubs in Scotland and England, but he will feel unfulfilled if he doesn’t win something. He will see Saturday, against us – a Championship team in the last four – as a wonderful opportunity.”
Robertson knows that yearning for success at his old club is not easily sated. Equally, though, the Caley Thistle manager believes few, if any, comprehend the club’s needs better than Levein.
“Craig understands better than most people, myself included. It’s not pressure. Craig will tell you, he’s not under pressure,” Robertson insisted. “He has to deal with the expectation levels of the Hearts fans.
“The club was in administration two short years ago. They have a brilliant new owner who has come in, put a lot of money into the club and the fans themselves have put lots of money in – millions of pounds – and deserve all the credit in the world for that.
“In my eyes, they are the third biggest club in Scotland with, potentially, the third biggest budget, but the supporters have to trust the people in charge to get on with the job. In the fans’ eyes, have they made the progress they expected? Probably not. They probably expected higher finishes in the league, better runs in cups and cup finals. They would probably have expected a trophy by now. Craig knows and understands that.
“Any manager knows, if you get a run of perceived bad results, you will come under so-called pressure in the media spotlight. Craig can deal with that – and he’ll deal with it in his own unique style and mannerisms.
“Trust me, it will be annoying him because of his own high standards. Will he lose any sleep over it? I don’t think so. He’s a very resilient character very resolute. He will be desperate to get it right.
“Hearts could finish sixth in the league this year or they could finish fifth, but all that can be erased by winning the cup. He will see us as a very achievable victory to get to the final and then he’ll take his chances against Celtic or Aberdeen, who they’ve both beaten.
“If results are not what the fans expect, Craig’s going to come under scrutiny.
“Is Ann Budge looking at something like that? I don’t think so. I think Ann has shown the loyalty all managers crave and hope for. She knows what Craig has done as director of football and what he’s doing now as manager. I don’t think he’s under any pressure from Ann Budge.
“But Craig will put himself under pressure by his standards and what he wants to achieve – and he’ll be hurting.”