Craig Levein has been described as having the ‘safest job in world football’ at Hearts, but could their upcoming run of fixtures mean he’s in danger of losing it?
Granted, that assessment of his position was coined by a former player who has clashed with the former Scotland manager, but as our panellists discussed on this week’s Totally Scottish Football Show, Levein is in a unique position at Tynecastle.
“He’s almost protected because of the relationship with [Hearts owner and CEO] Ann Budge,” said Andrew Slaven on the podcast, “which all comes from saving the club all those years ago. He’s part of the furniture. For her to turn around and say ‘we don’t want you around anymore…’ – he’s in a really safe position.”
Kieran Canning explained further: “Michael Stewart, a BBC pundit and ex-Hearts player who has a very fraught relationship with Levein, he has described it as ‘the safest job in world football.’ He was director of football, and technically still is because they haven’t brought anyone in to replace him when he moved to be manager. He’ll get a lot longer than your average manager to turn this around.”
But after a disappointing 2018/19 in which Hearts finished sixth, bottom of the ‘top half’ of the Scottish Premiership and a distant 16 points off the European places, combined with a sticky start to this campaign in which they lost to Aberdeen and drew with Ross County, could Levein’s position be in jeopardy?
Scott McIntosh from Hearts podcast and YouTube channel ‘Amoruso Lets It Run’ joined the Totally Scottish Football Show to explain the situation.
Hearts face Motherwell in the League Cup, then travel to Celtic before hosting Hamilton, and that run of games could be crucial in Levein’s future.
“The home match against Hamilton will probably be the big gauge on how much pressure Levein will be under going into September,” said Scott. “For me, the biggest concern is the home form – during the first 12 months [of his current tenure] we only lost five per cent of our home games, but since then we’ve lost 50 per cent, and that’s bottom six form.
“It would be great to do well in the cup and get some points against Celtic next week, but it’s really from the game against Hamilton that we’ll know how to feel going forwards.”
Is the style of football under Levein – or at least the perceived style of football – a big factor in speculation about his future?
“What people from outside Hearts might have seen from last season’s Scottish Cup final is that Levein is probably in his comfort zone when he’s putting together a team trying to negate another side. We nearly pulled off a great result then against Celtic, but the problem is when we’re trying to break down teams that want to set up with ten men behind the ball.
“We’re characterised as a long-ball team, but I actually don’t think that’s our intention. We do try to play from the back, but unfortunately we’re too slow and passive in moving the ball in midfield and it then does mean we resort to going from back to front, against some of these sides that set up to frustrate us. That’s almost been a calling card in Levein’s second spell at the club.
“Levein will always have this stigma about him because of how badly it went with Scotland.”
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