RAFA DE VITA witnessed Livingston rise from the ashes of administration.
So the stalwart Italian has no doubt they can rebuild following the impending exit of two key players.
De Vita is acutely aware of the influence Hearts-bound captain Craig Halkett and Declan Gallagher, who will join Motherwell, have had in Livi’s rapid rise from League 1 to the Premiership, accepting that the duo fully merit the opportunity to move on.
However, he is adamant that no-one is irreplaceable and has backed manager Gary Holt and his recruitment team to unearth a new batch of rough diamonds.
“The recruitment over the past to or three years has been unbelievable at Livingston,” said De Vita. “I’ve no doubt we’ll bring in players who will do really well for the club.
“As a player, you can now view Livingston as a place you want to be.
“We have managed to get ourselves into the Premiership, we have survived the first season and I don’t see why we should be considered inferior to clubs like Hamilton, Dundee or St Mirren. We are up there and, as a club, I think players will be excited to come here.
“It was not a shock to see Deccy [Gallagher] and Halks [Halkett] move on. They have been fantastic for this club and they were always going to attract interest. I doubt they are the only two that other clubs have been looking at, either.
“If players do well, they will move on – and we realise there are bigger and better things out there than Livingston.
“At the same time, our manager and directors have got us to a great position and we just need to maintain it.”
That was not always the case.
De Vita is astonished when he thinks how far the club has come since they were banished to the old Third Division amid a financial meltdown in 2009, resulting in brutal cost-cutting, redundancies and a tour of the less glamorous hotspots of the Scottish game.
However, he didn’t do walking away and helped fire the club back to the Championship before finally moving on to enjoy stints at Swindon Town, Bradford and Ross County. He returned to West Lothian in October 2016 to play his part in their return to the top-flight.
He smiled: “It’s crazy to see where we are now. Keaghan [Jacobs] and I have been here since we were in the Third Division and this club was a complete mess. It didn’t feel like proper football.
“No disrespect to the sides we were facing, but there weren’t many people watching the games and it didn’t feel like there was a lot riding on the matches.
“I didn’t ever think I would see Livingston’s stadium full ever again, it was always just the Main Stand with fans in it. Our home support would do what they could but they didn’t always feel like big occasions.
“So to see Rangers, Hibs, Celtic come here and have this stadium rocking is incredible. It gives you a sense of perspective on how far we’ve come.”
And as awards season approaches, De Vita sees no reason why Holt should not be under consideration to be named manager of the year after upsetting the odds and cementing the Lions’ top-flight status.
Having won promotion through the Championship playoffs last May, boss David Hopkin departed and his successor, Kenny Miller, was in the job for 51 days.
When Holt took the reins in August, Livingston were – perhaps understandably – being tipped for the drop. The prophets of doom have been well and truly silenced.
Manager Of The Year
De Vita continued: “There was a bit of uncertainty after Kenny Miller left but the gaffer [Holt] came in and just built on what we had done well over the previous couple of years. It was very intelligent.
“He realised there wasn’t a lot that needed changing, we were on a high and doing well. He wasn’t a dictator or trying to revolutionise things, we just did the simple things right and it has paid off.
“He should definitely be considered one of the managers who has done really well this season.
“The stats speak for themselves and to come up and do so well in the Premiership has been unbelievable. I’m sure those who are voting for manager of the year will take notice of him.”