BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson is pragmatic enough to know that in the incalculable world of football management, one day he will find his coat on a shoogly peg.
When that day comes, he will not grudge Ladbrokes, or any other bookmakers, filling their boots.
The behaviour of the gambling giant, which sponsors the SPFL, has come under scrutiny this week after they announced that Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes had been backed from 25/1 to become the next Scottish Premiership manager to leave his post.
It is indicative of the company’s PR strategy. They regularly distribute press releases regarding shifts in the Scottish football market, often outlining which gaffer could be next to depart their clubs. Gary Locke, Ronny Deila, Ian Baraclough, John Hughes and Alan Stubbs have also fell foul of this during the current campaign.
McInnes’ response was furious, insisting Ladbrokes have “a responsibility to act better” and accusing them of “working against clubs and managers”.
For Neilson, however, it is simply part-and-parcel of management, and the notion that the Ladbrokes should change their business plan because they now sponsor the SPFL is naive.
“That’s Ladbrokes’ line of business so they have to do it,” he said of the furore this week. “They’re bookmakers, people want to give them money to put bets on. I don’t have any issue with it and we aren’t going to stop it.
“It happens in every league in the world and every sport in the world. Just as long as many name is down near the bottom of the list!
“We’ll all be in that position eventually, numerous times as well. That’s just the way football is and life is. Things get put out on social media and get escalated from there. We just need to accept it.
“It’s part and parcel of football nowadays, you can get odds on anything. If you asked, there would be odds on you getting sacked. That’s the way it goes. It’s just a wee bit more in the public eye and people write about it.”
Evidently, witnessing 10 mangers come and go through Vladimir Romanov’s revolving door at Tynecastle has given him a realistic perspective on the transient nature of the job.
And Neilson laughed off any suggestion that a bookmakers can influence whether a boss is destined to be dismissed.
“It doesn’t matter whether the bookies want to take odds on it or not because if it’s going to happen, then it will happen,” he continued bluntly. “I don’t feel any pressure. I just come in and do my job every day. If you come in and do it as best you can then what else can you do?
“I don’t think the odds on getting sacked are going to make any difference whether you get sacked or not.”
With Neilson currently riding high in third spot in the Premiership, he is unlikely to be troubled by rumours of his departure any time soon. Nevertheless, he is keen to get out of a rut which has seen the Jambos fail to win a league fixture since August 22.
However, he is acutely aware of the danger posed by a motivated United, buoyed by the arrival of former Hibernian player and manager Mixu Paatelainen this week.
“I am expecting a reaction with Mixu coming in,” Neilson continued. “He’s got a good record in Scotland with Kilmarnock and he went to Finland and did well.
“He’s talking about making sure he avoids relegation so I expect United to defend well and be hard to break down. You always get a lift when a new manager comes in because it’s a clean slate for everyone.
“People who haven’t been in the picture for three months think they’ve got a chance so they all start working hard in training.
“I’m hopeful Mixu hasn’t had enough time to really work his squad that well and we can still take advantage of it. I expect them to pick up in the long-term, though.”
Meanwhile, Neilson addressed the departure of under-20s coach Jack Ross this week.
The Jambos are on the hunt for his successor after the former Dumbarton assistant manager left the club after 16 months.
Asked whether Ross’ exit was a footballing decision, Neilson simply replied: “It was a club decision. The club have made a statement and I don’t want to add too much to that.”
Neilson also emphasised the need to appoint the right man to succeed Ross in the role, which also acts as a pathway to becoming senior boss.