BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
CRAIG LEVEIN insists his capture of Ian Cathro was more than two years in the making after revealing the young coach verbally agreed to join Hearts in 2014.
The Jambos director of football explained how Cathro was “in the building” at Tynecastle and was ready to accept the role of under-20s boss, with a view to ultimately taking over from Robbie Neilson – who had just been appointed head coach of the senior side.
However, Levein’s master-plan was scuppered when the Dundonian was presented with an offer he couldn’t refuse: the chance to follow Nuno Espirito Santo, who he worked with at Rio Ave, to Spanish giants Valencia.
Jack Ross went on to take up the under-20s role in Gorgie, later replaced by Jon Daly, while Cathro worked at the Mestalla for one season before serving as No.2 to Steve McClaren then Rafa Benitez at Newcastle.
But Levein is adamant Cathro is the man he always intended to succeed Neilson, even if the appointment now appears to fly in the face of his desire to promote coaches from within.
He said: “In some ways Ian has come from within – because he was actually in the building two years ago and had accepted the under-20s job! That was before the Valencia job came along so he was actually the man we wanted to replace Robbie.
“The positive thing about that is that, in the period since then, he has been to Valencia and Newcastle – and I think he has learned a hell of a lot more than he would have staying here.
“I believe that next time – albeit hopefully Ian is with us for a long period – we will definitely be in a position to look at the coaches working within our system at the moment.
“That is our intention but, at this moment, we felt it was a little bit soon for Jon [Daly], Andy [Kirk] or Liam [Fox], who is out at Cowdenbeath. But the plan hasn’t changed in terms of developing coaches or developing players – it is just as firm as the day Ann [Budge] took over the club.”
Addressing Hearts’ 110th annual general meeting on Tuesday morning, Levein also spoke publicly about the qualities of Cathro for the first time, insisting his ambition is what sets him apart from other candidates.
The pair worked together when Cathro was a youth coach at Dundee United and it has not surprised Levein to see the promising coach sweep into the club with a mantra of “no limits”.
“One of the reasons Ian is here is because he does not have the same thoughts about what we can achieve as most people in Scotland.
“Talking about this season, when we get to January he can bring some players in and start to move towards what he was talking about in his introductory press conference.
“This season, a realistic target is third or fourth. Next season and – if we progress – the season after is where you can start looking at things slightly differently.”