BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Craig Levein has spent 20 years on Hearts’ books as a player, manager and, most recently, director of football.
However, the former Scotland manager insists he has never been more excited about the future of the Tynecastle club than he is now.
There was a feel-good factor at the Gorgie outfit’s 109th AGM on Thursday morning as owner Ann Budge announced the construction of a new main stand and signed off healthy financial results and projections.
Levein, meanwhile, updated shareholders on the progress of the football department, including their search for January reinforcements, the club’s targets for this season and, most notably, the construction of Scotland’s Sports Performance Centre at Heriot-Watt.
Hearts will utilise the £36 million facility, known as Oriam, when construction is completed next summer. And Levein’s enthusiasm was clear.
He said: “I have had a long association with this club and I have never been more excited by what is going on, in a number of different areas, and certainly in the football department.
“Anyone who has been to Heriot-Watt and seen the size of the project will know the scale, it dominates the skyline if you look over towards the Pentlands. That is a full-size, indoor pitch, with stands.
“We are fortunate that the SFA and Scottish Government decided to invest £36 million in this facility at Heriot-Watt, which we are right in the middle of.
“It does not belong to us, but the training ground never belonged to us anyway.
“Recruiting players is certainly more easy than it was when I was the manager here. We did’t have a training ground, so I used to the them along Princes St to a cafe, show them the castle and say: ‘Isn’t it lovely here!’
“Now we can take them to the training ground, the stadium and everything is hugely positive. And, recruiting younger players is made easier, because they can’t help but be excited by what’s happening at Heriot-Watt.”
While their new training base is at the heart of their future, Levein admits the club have lofty aspirations for the present.
The Jambos have excelled on their return to the Premiership and their initial ambition to finish in the top six now appears modest as they challenge Aberdeen for second spot. Evidently, Levein agrees.
“When you win something, it can be a dangerous time,” conceded the 51-year-old. “Players think they have achieved something and can ease off. I can assure everyone that is not happening here. We are not standing still, that is the message.”
“As much as Robbie [Neilson] and everyone talks about finishing in the top six, our ambitions are much greater. We know what we want to achieve and we are trying everything to finish as high in the league as possible.”
To that end, Levein is ready to spearhead a bid to strengthen Hearts’ strike-force next month.
“We’re constantly looking at the squad and the positions we feel need strengthening,” he added. “Robbie and I agree that we could do with a little bit more firepower up front, so that’s an area where we’ll be looking to do something.”