Robbie Neilson: New Hearts boss urges club to bounce back upon Tynecastle return
Robbie Neilson has said he hopes to bring “positivity back” to Hearts and has called on the club to move “forward” from its recent struggles.
With the club now battling their relegation from the Premiership in the Scottish courts, Neilson said he has the experience to get Hearts straight back up to the top flight if required, having secured promotion from the Championship with Dundee United last season and in his previous spell as Hearts boss in 2015.
“When teams come down it’s important they get back as quickly as possible, hopefully in the first season,” Neilson said in his first press conference since making the swap from Tannadice to Tynecastle last month.
“Once the court of arbitration case is sorted we will have a more firm idea about where we are going to be, but for me my objective is to win games, my objective is to get the team playing well, and get everyone back together in the same direction.
“I think it has been a difficult couple of years, especially a difficult six months for everyone in the football club, and it’s about bringing positivity back, bringing togetherness, and moving forward.”
Neilson said that a positive mindset was key to his success in his first spell as Hearts manager, when he beat Rangers and Hibernian to promotion from a competitive Championship and guided the club to second in the Premiership before leaving for MK Dons midseason.
“One of the biggest things was the togetherness of the club as a whole,” he said. “Whether that is players, coaches, staff, fans, everyone has to pull in the same direction. It’s important that everyone comes together and we get that support, because the support from the fans filters onto the pitch, and that then reciprocates back into the stands and we get good performances. It’s a fresh start for everyone.”
The former Scotland international and Hearts player was questioned by some for joining the club, rather than remaining with Dundee United for their first season back in the Premiership since 2016, but the 40-year-old said the offer to come back to the Jambos was too good to turn down.
“I’m delighted to be back. I had a fantastic time at Dundee United but I felt it was the right move at the right time when it came up,” Neilson said.
“I have a great affinity with Hearts. I was here as a player for a long time and also as a manager, so I felt it was the right one to come back to. I think if it had been another club it would have been a different story but when [owner] Ann [Budge] made contact I felt it was the right move for me.
“It was difficult to leave Dundee United because of the relationship I had with the players and the fans, but also with the staff above and below me, but when Hearts come knocking it’s very difficult to turn it back.”
Neilson’s return to Tynecastle is complicated by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. A date has yet to be set on when football training can resume in Scotland, although the Premiership is recommencing on August 2.
“First and foremost we have to get a date to return to training, once we do that we can start planning preseason and looking to the first few games of the season,” Neilson said. “It’s quite a hectic start with the Betfred [league cup] games, and then the first league games as well. We have to make sure we start the season extremely well, in order to kick on.”
On assessing his new squad, Neilson said it was “very, very strong” and was “one of the reasons” he came back. He added that the signing of former Scotland international goalkeeper Craig Gordon was a “massive boost for the club” and confirmed that club captain Christophe Berra will be part of his plans after the defender spent the second half of last season out on loan at Dundee.
“I know Christophe very well,” Neilson said. “He’s a very good defender and he’s good around the camp as well. Christophe will come back in with us, and we’ll look at the whole squad when they come back and make decisions.”