Newly discharged from hospital following treatment for a coronary problem that had Hearts fans worried and well-wishers from around the globe texting goodwill messages, Craig Levein was resting up when his daughter Christie informed him of the additional swell of online support.
“I was lying in my bed last midweek after I got home from the hospital and my daughter had been on social media. She said: ‘This is the best career move you have ever made. You should have done it when you were Scotland manager!’”
Added to the fact that so many people took time out to get in touch during a time he admits was frightening, the humorous quip was a fillip for the Hearts manager, who has been on the receiving end of enough negativity to know that the alternative should be savoured. Especially when football rivalries are put to one side .
‘Yes I’ve had a lot of well-wishers. Lenny was different class, he says of his Hibernian counterpart who spent much of last season verbally jousting with his city rival. “I’ve had a lot of support from all over Scotland and abroad, and not just in football.
“I don’t really want to go into the details [of what happened] but of course we got a fright. But the paramedics and the people at the [Edinburgh] Royal Infirmary, in the Coronary Care Unit, were fantastic. They fixed the problem for me almost as soon as it had reared its ugly head. I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
Sidelined while he recuperated, he has been back at work this week, preparing his league leaders for a tricky trip to Motherwell tomorrow and he is still hoping that he will be well enough to resume a pitchside role for that encounter.
But even if he decides to postpone his return to the technical area, at least he will be able to take in the action.
At home as Hearts took on St Mirren just days after being discharged from hospital, medical staff instructed him to sidestep the action. Despite his determination to keep abreast of things at the club in the build-up and his role in selecting the team, he was all set to try and shut the game out but his wife made that impossible.
“It was difficult that Saturday. The doctor had told me not to listen to the game so I went to my bed and read a fiction book – I can’t remember which one now – but at five past three my missus shouted up the stairs: ‘It’s 1-0!’ he laughs. “So I went and got my iPad and just watched the rest of the game.”
Even without their gaffer on the touchline, the team he has assembled still managed to make short work of claiming all three points, and, allied with the completion of several signings without the minute by minute input of the recuperating Director of Football, underlined the work that has been done to stabilise every area of the club.
“It was a bit awkward but that’s the advantage of having so many good people around. If one person can’t do the job then there’s someone else capable of stepping in. I felt good about not being there, I wasn’t panicky or worried. I knew they’d all just do what they do every other week. I’m the one who does the least!”
Despite the health set-back, the 53-year-old intends to carry on in his dual role as Director of Football and first team manager going forward.
“What’s really good is we have one more member of [coaching] staff than most other clubs. Normally you have a manager, assistant manager and a first team coach. We’ve got myself, Austin [MacPhee], Jon [Daly] and Foxy [Liam Fox]. They all have their own responsibility so if I’m not here it runs the same.
“It’s good we have different people who have different responsibilities on a day-to-day basis and that’s been something that has helped. Trust me, it was not a plan of any sort in case I ever got ill at some point.”
But he has been back out on the training ground this week, assessing options for tomorrow’s action and he has greater faith in his players to deliver in tricky circumstances.
The experienced players had been asked to assume even greater responsibility in the wake of Levein’s illness and it was Steven Naismith who led by example in the absence of his gaffer, netting a hat-trick against St Mirren and putting in a performance that earned him a late Scotland recall.
“As a man I love him to bits,” said Levein of his veteran forward. “I think he epitomises all that’s good in a footballer but also with his character. You wouldn’t meet a more humble person considering what he’s done in football and that’s a big thing. Having Stevie on board is a huge plus.
“Him, Aaron Hughes and Christophe Berra are all really humble guys and approachable and willing to share their knowledge with everyone at the club.”