BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
CRAIG LEVEIN believes Robbie Neilson’s dismissal by MK Dons could prove to be a blessing in disguise after tipping his coaching protege to bounce back stronger than ever.
The 37-year-old departed Stadium:MK on Saturday night following a 2-1 defeat against Northampton Town which saw them drop into the relegation places in SkyBet League One.
Neilson’s tenure lasted just 13 months and ended amid a run of just one victory in 11 league matches, however Levein – who endured a testing spell south of the border with Leicester between 2004 and 2006 – believes the disappointment will prove to be a valuable learning curve.
“It is difficult to go down to England, to a league you do not know an awful lot about without having much experience and be successful,” said Levein. “I found that myself when I went down to Leicester. It was just a bigger thing all together.
“Not knowing the league, the players and having to very quickly get up to speed on that, it’s very difficult, but I think Robbie is a fantastic manager.
“I have been back and forth on texts with him and I will give him a call later. This will help him – it doesn’t seem like it now but it will help him, providing he can reflect on what happened and what he did and how he can do better.
“I can see it as a blip on his managerial career. He needs to come back stronger and better.”
Levein, in his role as director of football at the time, afforded Neilson his first crack at management as head coach at Hearts in 2014. Unmitigated success followed as he claimed the Championship title with a record points total of 91 before leading them back to Europe with a third place finish in the top-flight.
“He got off to a flier in his career, but is completely different down there,” he added. “That is why you see managers in a particular league, in a particular country, be successful on a regular basis – because they know the things that are important to do well in that league.
“That is the difficultly when you jump from league to league. There are different things in each league that are important and the longer it takes to find out what these things are, the harder it is.
“When you are up in Scotland and you know everyone and you know the players and how the managers play, it easier than jumping into another league.”
On whether Neilson could be destined to return to the SPFL, he added: “Possibly. He is a hungry boy and a bright lad and I would certainly recommend him for jobs.”