Ann Budge rubbishes claims she has spoken to other managers about Hearts job

Hearts chairman Ann Budge has rubbished claims that a successor to Craig Levein has already been lined up and reiterated the board’s ongoing backing for the manager.

Hearts chairman Ann Budge. Picture: SNS
Hearts chairman Ann Budge. Picture: SNS

But, while stating it is still “too early to be panicking”, she revealed that could change if plans for the season began “going astray”.

Speculation, sparked by a poor start to the Premiership campaign, was fuelled by a protest outside Tynecastle following the defeat by Motherwell on Saturday which sent Hearts to the bottom of the league. Several hundred fans called for Levein to go and expressed disquiet at the way the club is being run.

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But, in an open and forthright statement, Budge, the Hearts majority shareholder, repeated what has been said by the club previously, both privately and publicly, stressing that the board is in no rush to usher out the door the manager who led the team to a League Cup semi-final and a Scottish Cup final last season.

Insisting they are aware of the criticism, she addressed claims that “Craig is running the club; I have lost control; decisions cannot be taken about the manager because he sits on the board…”, explaining that, like any other manager, Levein is forced to present reasons and solutions for any issues that jeopardise their pre-season plan to improve the club’s league standing and challenge for silverware.

“In short, our board remains behind the manager, his coaching staff and his team… not because he is ‘untouchable’, not because he is ‘all-powerful’, and not because we are ‘weak’, as has been suggested,” Budge said. “We remain behind him because we believe in the plan we have jointly put together.

“We will continue to scrutinise our on-field performances and should we feel our plans are going astray and our approach needs to be adjusted, we will respond accordingly.

“Be assured that we are not ‘burying our heads in the sand’; we are in constant dialogue about performances and what is going wrong on the pitch; and we are waiting (im)patiently for the return from injury of some of our key players… and no-one is more impatient than those players themselves.”

Urging fans to continue supporting the team “while we work through this difficult period”, she assured them that she shared their frustration at the results, which have included losses in two difficult away games to Aberdeen and Celtic, and damaging home draws against Ross County and Hamilton, followed by the defeat to Motherwell, which left Hearts at the foot of the table, less than 12 months since they were setting the pace at the top of it.

“Like every other Hearts supporter at the moment, I am hugely frustrated with the results… or indeed lack of them… from the first five Premiership fixtures. There is no way any of us set out at the start of the season believing we would be languishing in the bottom half of the table at this point… let alone in bottom position. Clearly, what we wanted to do was to have the same kind of start as we had last season… without the catalogue of injuries that then befell us. However, as we all know, that has not happened. So what do we do about it?

“What we do not do is over-react, throw all of our plans out of the window and start again!”

While a vocal section of the support will be angry with the decision, the fact Levein guided the side to the latter stages of the cup competitions last season despite a catalogue of injuries to key players, allied to the levels attained when the majority were fit, offers Budge and her board cause to pause rather than being swept away by the current mood.

While the club recruited heavily in the summer, there have been similar obstacles to overcome this term, with Peter Haring, Steven Naismith, Callumn Morrison, John Souttar, Michael Smith, Jamie Walker, Joel Pereira and now Conor Washington sidelined by injury.

Naismith and Smith are expected to return for Sunday’s capital derby and Budge is confident that Levein and the players can start to turn the season around, negating any need to replace the manager, despite claims that a shortlist has been drawn up.

“I can confirm that I have spoken to no other manager about the possibility of joining Hearts and names being publicly linked to the club are pure speculation. I have, however, fielded numerous, unsolicited phone calls from agents… who are rarely shy of trying to further their cause by leaking ‘made up’ stories to the media!

“The board firmly believes it is too early to be panicking and tearing up our plans.”