Seething Hearts boss Craig Levein hits back at Brendan Rodgers, suggesting Celtic’s failure to blood young players is more damaging than the length of the grass at Tynecastle could ever be

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BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport

CRAIG LEVEIN has launched a withering attack on Brendan Rodgers, suggesting that the Celtic gaffer’s refusal to blood home-grown youngsters is more damaging to Scottish football than the length of the grass at Tynecastle could ever be.

The Hoops boss was outspoken regarding the state of the surface in Gorgie following his side’s 3-1 triumph on Sunday, describing it as ‘embarrassing’.

Levein has no qualms about admitting that he made a conscious decision not to have the turf cut short ahead of the visit of the champions, emphasising that no rules were broken.

However, he was particularly irked by Rodgers suggesting the progress of young players could be hampered pitches like Hearts’.

Rodgers slammed: “Of course it’s gamesmanship but that’s 30 years ago, Christ. If that’s what you want to do, then fine – but it’s not football. Scotland haven’t qualified [for a major finals] for 20-odd years and we’re trying to develop players and a product here to move the game on.”

The former Scotland manager barbed back: “I never knew it was as simple as that. So if we cut all the grass short, then we’ll go to the finals? Brilliant. Why did nobody think of that? That’s just unbelievable.”

Levein has handed senior debuts to the likes of Anthony McDonald, Harry Cochrane this season – both 16 years of age at the time of their first appearances – and this week completed the signing of Glenavon midfielder Bobby Burns.

He tacitly compared that to Celtic’s loan captures of Odsonne Eduoard, Charly Musonda and Patrick Roberts.

He pointedly continued: “The development of players for me is about giving them the opportunity to play – much, much more than the length of the grass. That is a serious comment.

“Bobby Burns, for example, is 18 years of age. Some clubs in this country have got fantastic players at 18, 19, 20 and never play them. They go and get loan players from elsewhere, who are the same age – and don’t play their own kids.

“That’s what hampers Scotland’s development.

“I make no excuses for trying to win the game. It’s just a nonsense. They actually won the game as well. God forbid … what would have happened if they had lost?”

Levein’s incredulity at Rodgers’ comments was only increased by the fact he claims the Northern Irishman did not once mention his disappointment with the surface when they met for the traditional managers’ chat after the game.

And he insists that if Rodgers truly wants a level playing field at Tynecastle, then he should arrive in Gorgie with a squad assembled on Hearts’ budget.

Levein continued: “I spoke to Brendan for 20 minutes after the game and he never mentioned it. There were no complaints about the grass.

“There was nothing in there that broke any rules. If you want to talk about evening up the playing field then maybe if he brought a team along that earned the same money as our players then that would be fair.

“The pitch was alright. There was plenty of grass on it. I wish I could be in a position where that’s the only thing I had to worry about.” Asked whether the grass had been cut ahead of tonight’s visit of Hibernian, Levein smiled: “Yes, of course.”

Dustbin

With Hearts limping to an uninspired sixth-placed finish, Levein readily admits he is ready to consign much of this season ‘to the dustbin’.

The Jambos’ home form, however, has been one cause for optimism, with Sunday’s reverse against the Hoops their first home defeat since Tynecastle’s redevelopment.

And Levein is determined to bring the curtain down on the campaign in Gorgie with a flourish.

He added: “It’s good that the final home game is Hibs. The game has special meaning for everyone at the club, firstly the supporters – but certainly for the players as well. It’s a big game to finish with and we want to win.

“I completely understand Hearts supporters’ desires to win this match. It’s been a tough season for everyone and it would be good to finish on a high.

“This season has been really, really difficult. I’ve got some things to take from this season, but the rest is consigned to the dustbin and I look forward to next season.”

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