Negativity over Craig Levein will vanish with Hearts wins '“ Budge

Hearts owner Ann Budge laughs as she reveals a conversation she had with a fan at the weekend. The person has apparently spent their life working in market research and had informed her that having surveyed the mood and opinion of supporters, 'everything will be fine as long as you don't appoint Craig Levein'.

Hearts owner Ann Budge and newly re-appointed manager Craig Levein. Picture: SNS.

By that time she had already offered him the job and, to her surprise, he had accepted.

Budge is not daft and neither is the man she placed her faith in as director of football and now as first-team manager. Both know that, if it was a popularity contest, Levein would not score as highly as many who demanded consideration as Ian Cathro’s replacement. But both also recognise that fans can be fickle and will forgive most flaws provided their team are winning.

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“I can’t allow fan reaction to influence a sensible business judgment,” she insisted. “That doesn’t mean I am not listening to them.

“I was around as a fan when Craig was here and went on a number of European trips. At that point he was a really popular and good manager. You weigh that up against those who say never let him cross this door again. It’s illogical – supporter behaviour often is.

“The key for me is having balance. I spend a lot of time talking to supporters and it is the unhappy ones who shout loudest. There are still an awful lot of Hearts fans who are pleased with the way things have gone. Yes, disappointed with results [under Ian Cathro] but there are sensible supporters out there too.

“I was at a fireworks display on Monday night and there were supporters who came up and shook my hand and said: ‘It is great to have the appointment’. They weren’t saying they thought it was the best or worst appointment, just let’s get on with it.

“Craig also said, ‘it would be easier if only I was popular’. I think that will disappear if we have a few good results.”

Having taken four weeks to make the appointment, Budge said it was more important to weigh up all options and get it right than settle things swiftly.

“Genuinely, the people we interviewed we talked about afterwards as an interview panel, and every single one of them had a lot to offer. Almost to the point where it was, how do we make a choice?

“There was also a point where we asked if we were doing the right thing – is it experience or should we bring Jon [Daly, the interim boss] into the mix? Then it was, ‘actually, why don’t we ask Craig?’ It wasn’t that anyone else failed, it’s just that he really ticked this extra box. He’s committed, totally, to Hearts. He has just committed another three years to Hearts. He wants to succeed and he wants the model we have introduced to succeed. And I think he can do it.”

She said that, having decided on the way forward, the biggest concern was whether 
Levein would agree to assume the extra responsibility.

“He wasn’t hesitant which took me by surprise because I thought he would be. He had, obviously, been thinking as well. The fundamental thing which was mentioned a few times was stability. I think he realised he actually was the best solution.”

With key positions throughout the academy now filled by people he trusts and things ticking over nicely throughout the rest of his football domain, the former Scotland boss recognised that his diluted director of football responsibilities gave him the flexibility to return to a job he had been missing.

“Bringing in anyone unknown would have brought a little bit of risk to it,” explained Budge.

“The risk in this one is that Craig will be wearing two hats. I have taken an extra week to convince myself that is okay. The big thing was stability 
and Craig was very, very keen to do it.”

In her statement announcing his appointment, the chairwoman had enjoyed a dig at those who believe he has been pulling the strings all along, stating that, “yes, for the first time in the last three years he will indeed be picking the team”. That theme continued as they faced the media yesterday, with Levein drolly saying that he would now be able to take responsibility for all future results and not just the defeats.

But Budge added that reverting to experience this time around did not mean they were abandoning the plan to develop young coaches and promote from within.

Daly, who had been at the helm for the past four matches, had been seen as a contender for the post on a more permanent basis but, having met with him, Budge said he understands that at least the appointment offers continuity for the coaches and players.

Although Levein has a three- year contract, Budge would not rule out the possibility of him standing aside sooner if he felt the blossoming coaches were ready to succeed him.

“It’s a possibility but, equally, I was surprised he was willing to go back into first-team management and he might love it so much he doesn’t want to go back to just being a director of football,” she added.

“We did look at whether it would be a barrier to the young guys, but, if Ian had worked out, he would have been just as much of a barrier, so I think this move shows our commitment to developing young coaches.”