Craig Levein is talking about how he has changed as a manager. The job still gets his juices flowing but he is more mellow, more trusting of those around him and, consequently, happier to delegate. Some things haven’t altered, though.
“You work as hard as you can and I will support everybody to the end. If you don’t work hard then… ” his sentence tails off but the message is clear. He works hard himself and expects that endeavour from others. “For me it’s simple. That’s not changed.” But nowadays he is willing to share the load in a way he would never have countenanced in his early days in management.
“I suppose everybody changes and evolves as they get older,” he said. “I’m different now to how I was at the start of my coaching career here. I’ve got more trust in my staff, I don’t need to do absolutely everything and that has been quite a big benefit, to let Jon [Daly], Foxy [Liam Fox] and Austin [MacPhee] do what they’re good at – and just keep an eye on things. That’s been the biggest change, I think, in how I work.
“It’s not hard to be less hands-on. I think the director of football thing has helped with that. I’ve been standing back – and I feel comfortable doing that.
“We’re all working together, so it’s never a matter of me stepping in, so to speak. We’ve all got responsibilities – Jon, Liam, Austin and Tom, our fitness guy.
“They do their own things. I say what we’re going to work on this week, and they come up with the training plans. Then Tom works out how much effort they need to put in. Well, they just put in everything and he works out how to fix it afterwards!
“Years ago, I would have done absolutely everything. Or I tried to do everything. But I feel ok about this.”
That emphasis on teamwork and endeavour was reflected in his side’s high-tempo and industrious performance against Aberdeen, then, last weekend, his men battled to a victory the Hearts boss himself described as “horrible but rewarding”. But while some see those results as a sure sign that a corner has been turned in the wake of Ian Cathro’s sacking, Levein is more reticent, refusing to get too excited when so many tough challenges and away fixtures are looming large, including tomorrow’s trip to Firhill to face Partick Thistle.
“Confidence is a big thing. It’s hard to quantify. But we gained confidence from the Aberdeen game, when we got a point and the performance was good,” he added. “Then we got three points from a pretty scrappy match last week. So [the players] are feeling better about themselves. I was pleased with the win against Hamilton because if we had won 4-0 I would not have learned anything. But it was a hard game.
“I’ve watched all of Partick’s matches and Archie [manager, Alan Archibald] will be gutted because they haven’t got what they deserved from their matches. They have played very well in spells in all of their games and have been unlucky on a number of occasions. I like Archie and I think he is a really good manager and he has had Partick punching well above their weight for some time so we are expecting a tough game.”
Finding solutions to any of the problems Partick pose is a key aspect of the managerial role that Levein relishes and, along with responsibility for man-management, it is one he has not delegated along with other duties.
“It always is about man management,” he said. “Previously I did that on top of everything else. Now, Austin is responsible for analysis, Jon and Foxy are responsible for putting the training programme together – and Tom is responsible for making sure we don’t kill them; just before killing them, that’s where we want to stop!
“As it is, I come into it on a Thursday and Friday – matchday, too. I’m always there at training, every day. But the people who are working are good people, coming up with good ideas, so pretty much the beginning of the week belongs to everybody else. We do video analysis, of course. We go over things that have happened in previous matches. But I feel like Thursday, Friday and Saturday are mine.
“The way we play and how we set up and how we counter what Partick are doing and how we want to attack are the matchday essentials that I like getting involved in.”