BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
CRAIG LEVEIN has revealed that his daughter joked that he should have suffered a heart scare during his ill-fated stint as Scotland manager – because he has never been so popular.
The Hearts boss was rushed to hospital for urgent treatment on August 27 after taking ill in his home.
The 53-year-old was inundated with messages of good-will from at home and abroad. Among those was Hibs’ Neil Lennon, who sent his city rival a text message to express his support.
However, in his first media engagement since the incident, he was reluctant to dwell on the trauma and brought levity to proceedings by suggesting it has done wonders for his public profile.
“I’ve had a lot of well-wishers,” recalled Levein. “Lenny [Neil Lennon] was different class. I’ve had a lot of support from all over Scotland and abroad, and not just in football.
“I was lying in my bed last midweek after I got home from the hospital and my daughter [Christie] had been on social media. She said: ‘This is the best career move you have ever made – you should have done it when you were Scotland manager!’”
He continued: “I don’t really want to go into the details but of course we got a fright. The paramedics and the people at the Royal Infirmary, in the Coronary Care Unit, were fantastic. They fixed the problem for me almost as soon as it had reared its ugly head. I’ll be forever grateful for that.
“I feel good. I’ve had a cold the last couple of days, which does not help, but I’ve been feeling better and stronger each day.”
Even in Levein’s absence, Hearts continued their 100 per cent start to the Premiership season, sweeping aside St Mirren under the watchful eye of assistant head coach Austin MacPhee – who, ironically, previously held the same role with the Buddies.
“It was difficult last Saturday,” he smiled. “The doctor had told me not to listen to the game so I went to my bed and read a book – I can’t remember which one now – and at five past three my missus [Carol] shouted up the stairs: ‘It’s 1-0’.
“So I went and got my iPad and watched the rest of the game! In fairness, she wouldn’t have shouted if it was 1-0 to St Mirren.”
Hearts success, however, came as no surprise to Levein, who had faith the show would go on without him courtesy of a strong back-room staff of MacPhee and coaches Jon Daly – steeled by a stint as caretaker boss – and Liam Fox.
“Normally you have a manager, assistant manager and a first-team coach,” explained Levein. “We’ve got myself, Austin, Jon and Foxy. They all have their own responsibility so if I’m not here it runs the same.
“We have different people who have different responsibilities on a day-to-day basis. That’s been something that has helped – although, trust me, it was not a plan of any sort in case I ever got ill at some point!
“I felt good about not being there because I wasn’t panicky or worried. I just knew they would all just do what they do every other week. I’m the one who does the least, to be honest!”
Levein eased himself back into work on Monday by watching the Wee Jambos’ Reserve Cup victory over derby rivals Hibs and has been a presence on the training ground at Riccarton this week.
And while he is feeling the effects of an untimely cold, Levein is confident that he will be strong enough to take his place in the away dugout for Saturday’s encounter against Motherwell.
“I’m very close to doing that [returning to dugout],” Levein continued. “I decided this week that if I feel like I have enough energy then I will definitely be in the dugout.”
Meanwhile, Levein has paid tribute to Scotland hero Steven Naismith, who carried his club form of seven goals in his last eight games into the international scene by finding the net in Monday’s 2-0 win over Albania.
“I love him to bits,” lauded Levein. “I think he epitomises all that’s good in a footballer but also with his character. You wouldn’t meet a more humble person considering what he’s done in football and that’s a big thing.
“Him, Aaron Hughes and Christophe Berra are all really, really humble guys and approachable and willing to share their knowledge with everyone at the club.
“Having Stevie on board is a huge plus. He’s a fantastic guy and I can’t speak highly enough of him.”