In Craig Levein, Hearts choose familiarity and stabilty
Hearts’ clash against Aberdeen on Saturday will feature a number of firsts. It will be the Jambo’s first of three home matches to be played at Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby, while work on the Tynecastle main stand continues. The match will also be the first of Craig Levein’s second spell as Hearts’ manager, following his appointment last week. In Levein, Hearts’ have opted for the closest and most sensible option, as John Menzies writes…
Craig Levein has returned to the hot seat at Hearts. It is an appointment that has divided fans somewhat, with Levein often being a target of supporters’ frustrations during his time as the club’s Director of Football – the role that he had previously held since 2014. Notably, questions were asked about his role in first team affairs – particularly when it came to team selection. At least his selection as head coach will put that certain matter to bed!
If you look at Levein’s managerial history, and particularly his previous spell at Hearts from 2000 to 2004, it’s hard to argue with the decision. He led the club to successive third place finishes and in Europe, he masterminded victories over Bordeaux in 2003 and SC Braga in 2004. When at Dundee United, who he joined in 2006, he regularly led the side to top-half finishes as well as guiding them to the League Cup final in 2008, where they lost to Rangers on penalties.
And of course, he managed the Scottish national team between 2009 & 2012. Yes, the hallmark of his tenure was the infamous “4-6-0” formation in Prague but when you look at it on the whole, he was fairly successful. Okay, a win percentage of 41.67% isn’t fantastic. However, Scotland were desperately unlucky not to qualify for Euro 2012 under his guidance. A very, very contentious last-minute penalty awarded to Czech Republic meant that Scotland lost a three-point swing to the Czechs and they subsequently missed out on the play-off place in Group I by two points.
Even in his post as Director of Football, Levein has been a successful appointment – although many fans will contest this. He has overseen a remarkable turnaround, from when the club was on its knees having been relegated from the Scottish Premiership the previous season. The club has also recently exited administration, and with the work of chairwoman Ann Budge, Levein and head coach Robbie Neilson, the club was catapulted in the right direction. Hearts won the Championship that season by 21 points and had the league won before Easter. They followed that up in the 2015-16 season by finished third, despite being a newly-promoted side.
However, when Neilson left for MK Dons in November 2016, the club took a downward spiral under new head coach Ian Cathro. The club plummeted from the heights of second, when Cathro was appointed, down to sixth by the season’s end. A lot of the responsibility of the failure of Cathro’s appointment fell on Levein, who dismissed the Dundonian as head coach following an embarrassing group stage exit of the Betfred Cup in July.
Since the announcement of Levein’s second coming, there have been questions raised about his ability to reach the heights of his last spell as Hearts boss. After all, he has been out of club management since 2009 and out of management altogether since 2012. However, he will have been helping both Neilson and Cathro during his tenure as DoF so he won’t have lost touch completely with his managerial skills. But what makes this appointment seem like a sensible one, is that Levein is incredibly familiar with the structure at Hearts, having worked within it over the past three years.
The most important thing that Levein needs to do is get points on the board, and quickly. To do that, he needs to continue the good work that Jon Daly has done as interim head coach. Daly has instilled a ruggedness about Hearts. The players were without fight when Cathro was in charge but on the showing on this season so far, they look motivated and difficult to break down.
It’s certainly going to be intriguing to see how Hearts do under Levein’s tenure, which starts this Saturday against Aberdeen, the club’s first “home” game of the season which takes place at BT Murrayfield. A win would go a long way to silencing his doubters.