Dundee United didn’t want to lose Robbie Neilson to Hearts. The 40-year-old had guided the club into the Premiership and plans were being made for their return to the top-flight after four years in the second tier.
When Scottish football entered a shutdown in March, United were 14 points clear at the top of the Championship.
Few at the club or amongst the United support would have expected Sunday to unfold the way it did.
In a statement confirming his departure, Dundee United sporting director Tony Asghar revealed they turned down an initial approach from the Tynecastle club.
“I can confirm that I was called today by Ann Budge seeking permission to speak with Robbie Neilson to become Hearts' new Head Coach,” he said.
“This was turned down, however, after lengthy discussions with Robbie he made it clear he wished to speak with them. As a result of this, the contractual termination clause has been met and Robbie will leave the Club.
“As Head Coach, he led the team to a play-off final before achieving promotion with a Championship title this season and I would like to thank him for his contribution.
“Gordon Forest and Lee McCulloch will continue leading our pre-season preparations ahead of the Scottish Premiership restart and we will look to appoint a new Head Coach as soon as possible.”
The club’s chairman Mark Ogren added: “Although we are understandably disappointed, Dundee United Football Club are bigger than one person and we will continue to work towards our long-term plan with our staff and players and, of course, our loyal supporters.
“Robbie played a huge role in our journey so far, however, we now look towards the future, with a new leader and renewed hope for our fans.”
What did the fans have to say?
@TheDailyArab83: I was never overly critical as after the previous 4 seasons we desperately needed someone who could get job done & he did that. Some huge red flags along the way though; heavy defeats to Ayr & QOS, the way we set up in play off final & our inability to breakdown part time teams.
Final point on this (for now). While I’m not overly fussed about Neilson’s departure, the fact he’s so willingly walking away from the “project” he’s been banging on about for the last 20 months to join the shambles that is Budge’s Hearts. Does he know something we don’t?
@mrneilforsyth: “Strange from Robbie Neilson. Like one of the Chilean miners saying, “Don’t worry about me, lads, it’s a good laugh down here”.”
@SGMilne: “Losing Neilson isn’t that bad, but the optics of this are terrible for United. Needs to be dialogue with fans on issues that will be of great concern. Mainly what impact will this have in us being a Premiership side? It’s niggling in the back of all our minds.”
@finchleyflyer: “Without Shankland, this season would have been very average. Let’s see how Neilson manages without him.”
@Dodeaitken: “Don’t get why some are upset about him leaving, yeah it’s a tad disappointing but honestly it’s no like he was excelling at his job.”
@michelob_tfs: “If it was just about the manager then I wouldn’t be as bothered. It’s the timing and the fact they are actively trying to cancel our promotion.”