Hearts manager Craig Levein will not be in the dugout this weekend but he will pick the team for tomorrow’s clash with St Mirren.
According to his assistant coach Austin MacPhee, the heart scare which saw Levein rushed to hospital on Monday morning has not proved enough of a distraction for the club’s manager and director of football, who has returned home and has tweeted saying he intends to be back at work following the international break.
But, in his absence, MacPhee, who will discuss team matters fully before handing over final say to the recuperating Levein, says everyone at the club is focused on delivering the perfect pick-me-up.
“Ultimately he has brought us all to the club, whether that’s the staff or players, as the director of football or manager, and we just want to make him feel good about everything he has done and show that it is working and the people he has allowed to gain experience, coaching, dealing with you the media, and speaking to and developing the players, are up to the challenge. So we all just need to do our job.
“We had a meeting at the start of the week and said that if everybody just does a little bit more then we won’t have to change anything. The senior players are very significant in this as well, Aaron Hughes, Christophe Berra, Steven Naismith, John Souttar, Michael Smith, Steven MacLean, they all help set the culture and the culture is good.
“They remind everyone else that all that we want to win this game for the manager and we do that by doing a little bit more. Hopefully the supporters can give us that little bit more encouragement as well which will get us over the line and make Craig feel relaxed about his recovery and relaxed about how long he takes off.”
Levein took to Twitter yesterday to thank the staff at the Coronary Care Unit at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and signal his intention to return to the dugout on 15 September.
“I’d like everyone to know that I’m feeling great and aiming to be back in the dugout for the Motherwell match, all being well,” he wrote. “I’d like to thank the paramedics and all staff in the CCU at ERI for their care and professionalism.”
Even in the hours after he was admitted to hospital, the 53-year-old was wrapped up in events at Riccarton and Tynecastle as the team prepare for this weekend’s home match against St Mirren with the goal of extending their unbeaten start to the season to nine games.
Having successfully pinned down Demetri Mitchell’s return on loan and signed Craig Wighton from Dundee, MacPhee says the club has proved that there are enough people in place to complete the remaining deals.
“I went to see him on Monday afternoon. He likes a scone, Craig, a dry one like his sense of humour,” said MacPhee. “But there weren’t any available on the bypass so I went for something more traditional and I got him some grapes, they were actually maroon, though. And I thought I had done quite well but then Ann [Budge, owner] went to see him on Tuesday and had got him a Manchester United player [Mitchell]. I was upstaged but we all have a different budget for gifts!
“He was in good spirits and just wanted out. He wanted to talk about football, training and to know about what I was doing with the transfer targets. He was determined to get out of there as quick as he could. The care he has had has been fantastic and he is now home. He is on the road to recovery.”
In hospital or supposedly relaxing at home, Levein has maintained a hands on approach, with MacPhee fielding regular calls, saying he is too scared to ask if his gaffer has been instructed to take a complete step back and is simply answering the phone each time he calls. But he praised the work carried out by the club and Levein in recent years, saying that the foundations are now solid, allowing them to absorb the shock of this week’s events and still move forward.
“At any organisation people talk about whether it can function without the key man and Craig is unquestionably the key man but he has built an infrastructure and given us the experience that allows us mentally to be relaxed and comfortable in this situation.”
“He is by no means a control freak. He works as much on developing the young staff around him as developing the players. So, in a moment like this, we know what to do.”
The investment in scouting has also lessened the blow of losing Levein at such a pivotal time in transfer dealings. MacPhee explained: “For example, when Christophe Berra tore his hamstring, by the time the game finished our scout in England within five minutes had already recommended Jimmy Dunne and sent us three reports on him.
“We didn’t have that infrastructure before but within 48 hours Jimmy Dunne is at the club and he plays really well against Kilmarnock. So having these processes in place allows the team to perform better.
“Craig has given me experience before of dealing with transfers so I know what to do but he sets the parameters and then at times it’s a case of phone calls and small negotiations.”