Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson insists he would be ‘crazy’ not to ask Craig Levein for advice, but insists he has full control over first team affairs at Tynecastle.
Former Hearts midfielders Michael Stewart and Gary Mackay have both raised concerns over director of football Levein’s influence following a frustrating start to the campaign, which includes a Europa League defeat to Maltese minnows Birkirkara.
The pair believe a more aggressive approach to matches, similar to the style Levein deployed during his time in charge of Hearts, Leicester City, Dundee United and Scotland, is a result of the director of football’s sway behind the scenes.
While Neilson, who led Hearts to the Championship title in 2015 playing an exciting brand of football, admits he is in constant dialogue with Levein, he has made it clear he has full autonomy over the team.
Neilson, whose side will bid to collect their first Premiership win of the season at home to Inverness tomorrow following a defeat to Celtic and draw with Aberdeen, said: “We’ve had great success in the last two years. And Craig is a great sounding board for me. I would be crazy not to ask someone with his experience and knowledge for advice.
“But it’s like everything else, when you have a couple of bad results, people will start looking for reasons behind it. We have to accept that.
“My role is the first team and everything that goes on in the first team, from recruitment, team selection, tactics, playing, everything – and we have had two great seasons when everything was all singing, all dancing.
“But now we have had a couple of bad results and people are always going to have something to say because it is different.
“Gone are the days when it was the local butcher that takes over the club and it is just him and the manager, there is now an infrastructure there and this is a huge club.”
Hearts fans are likely to be edgy to any suggestion of meddling in first team matters after former owner Vladimir Romanov infamously interfered with the side during his controversial reign.
Neilson added: “Are Hearts fans more sensitive it? Maybe, when you think about the things that went on.
“But the club now is very settled, we’re going in the right direction, we’re building.
“We have progressed over the past two years and we hope to progress again.
“But it’s like anything. If you don’t get results then people look at things and try to throw things in there.
“This is a big club and the three previous games have been good, without getting results. But I know it’s a results business and, if you don’t get results, you take the flak that goes with that.”
An ambitious young coach, Neilson is also such doubts will not do his reputation any good.
He added: “Look, it was my team for two years and we were doing great. People are now saying that, overnight, it has changed.
“Believe me, it hasn’t. I’ve always been honest about how it works here.
“I just think the structure we have here can be difficult for people to understand, people who have been set in their ways for a long time, anyway.
“With them it goes chairman, manager, end of story. Teams and clubs are building different structures. Look at the teams down in England, where they have some phenomenal structures, owners, boards, CEOs, everything – director of football, sporting director.
“As clubs grow, it takes more to run them.
“But ultimately, as the first team coach or head coach, you’ve got to have total control over the first team.”