On the day Robbie Neilson signed a contract extension to 2018, mentor Craig Levein has urged frustrated Hearts fans to support the head coach as he continues to develop.
Levein, the club’s director of football, was speaking after two defeats which some fans have found hard to bear – against local rivals Hibs in the Scottish Cup and bottom of the table Dundee United.
“Robbie has been fantastic,” he said. “We are trying to implement a system of developing managers as well as players. With that will come periods of inconsistency, but as long as we are slowly improving that’s the main thing. I expect this slump – or whatever it is. But it’s Robbie’s first job. When we made the decision to go down this road to develop managers as well as players, you have to allow for inexperience, allow for guys learning on the job, just as you do with players.
“Look at what he has already done – this job brings pressure, it’s a big job in the context of Scottish football. He has done amazingly well.
“I’d ask them [the fans] to keep the faith if I thought there might be a possibility of them not doing that,” Levein added. “We have lost a couple of matches. We have lost to Hibs, which was a sore one. It hurt me and it hurt Robbie. It hurt the players, it hurt everyone within club. But the way out of these things is to win games and put that disappointment to the back of your mind.”
Hearts, currently third in the league, host Kilmarnock this afternoon. They have won only once in four matches since letting Osman Sow travel to China to speak to Henan Jianye. He has since signed for the Chinese Super League club for a fee approaching £1.5 million.
“To be fair it is the best deal any [Scottish] club has ever got,” said Levein. “He only had four months of his contract left. The point being that when you have a model based on selling players, it is not always in your hands. When something like that happens you weigh things up – if he had 14 months or 16 months left, we would obviously still have had to think about it.”
Levein also paid tribute to owner Ann Budge as work continues to improve the infrastructure at the club.
“The primary concern is looking after the pennies,” said Levein. “She is such a different type of owner of a football club – so relaxed and insightful, which maybe comes with all the experience she has had in business, and coming from outwith football, which is beneficial too.
“It’s her personality, how she deals with people, little things like that. When we came out of administration all that you are really responsible for is football debt. She paid that but she also paid all the debt to the staff, which she didn’t have to pay a penny of. She ensured they all got what they were due.
“It is an example of how she wanted to deal with things going forward. While we might not have got everything right, everything we have done has been thoughtful and for the right reasons.”