Interview: Hearts boss Craig Levein on why he has mellowed with age
Whereas the young Levein would attend to every minute detail, down to ensuring training cones were arranged in perfectly straight order each morning, he no longer feels the need for such control.
At 54, he delegates responsibilities at Riccarton to coaches Austin MacPhee, Jon Daly and Liam Fox. He takes charge of tactical work a day or two before games, but on matchdays is mostly composed and collected.
The change comes from experience, plus seven years out of club management during which time Levein felt football coaching changed considerably. He accepted a second term as Hearts manager last August in tandem with his director of football job at the Edinburgh club and is enjoying a familiar challenge once more.
His insight and expertise have transformed the team’s fortunes this season. Hearts are currently just three points off the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership despite having several key players injured for much of the campaign so far. Victory at Livingston tomorrow night would place them joint top with Celtic, who would have three games in hand.
In a detailed interview, Levein explained the inner workings of his coaching structure and the machinations which have helped reinstate Hearts as challengers.
“I do think that things have changed. I have been gradually doing less and putting more trust in people,” he revealed. “When I first started this job I did everything. I did all the training, put all the cones out, making sure they were spot on. And then I realised after a period of time that other people can do that better than me.
“I leave a lot of the coaching. I’ll speak to Jon and Liam during the week and Austin about what we need to do for the weekend, and they’ll design training sessions and say: ‘What about this?’ I’ll say: ‘What about this or that?’ Nine times out of ten I’ll just let them get on with it.
“When it comes to the end of the week, obviously I’ve got more interest in being involved in the tactical stuff. I do think that I try to be less volatile.”
Officials can still test his patience but Levein is conscious of how he acts in the technical area. “I don’t know if I’ve got the energy for jumping up and down on the touchline any more. I’ve been trying to take off!” he joked.
“I’m no less passionate but I definitely think that things have changed in the game in the short period of time that I’ve been out of things. My last club job was 2010 [at Dundee United] so in those seven years before I started last year, there have been great leaps forward in the way that players are treated and you have manage that. Us dinosaurs have got to fall into line.”
Helping Levein relax more at the moment is seeing injured players nearing a return to action. His captain Christophe Berra managed three games in a week after four months out with a torn hamstring. Improved performances from the team were therefore no surprise to the manager.
“It’s no coincidence that we’ve been better the last three matches because Christophe’s been back in the team,” he said. “Two reasons: One, the solidity he brings and extra determination he brings; two, the feeling his team-mates get when he’s sitting in the dressing room and the feeling the opposition gets when they look at the team sheet – ‘oaft, Christophe’s back’.
“So we’ll get that again when Steven Naismith is back, John Souttar is back and Uche Ikpeazu is back. We’ve got boosts ahead of us. We’ve got David Vanecek coming in in January, which is already done. He’ll be with us on 5 January so I can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Years of experience tell Levein it would not be wise to risk top goalscorer Naismith on Livingston’s astroturf pitch just six weeks after knee surgery.
“If we were on grass then maybe Naisy might have had half a chance, but I just don’t want to risk him. I’ll be picking the team to win, not looking at who particularly performs better on astroturf.”