Ann Budge believes Hearts are still heading in right direction but admits Craig Levein is not ‘bomb proof’

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Hearts owner Ann Budge believes the club is still heading in the right direction but admits that manager Craig Levein is not ‘bomb proof’.

Following a disappointing sixth place finish in the Premiership, the Tynecastle side will attempt to end the campaign on a high by denying Celtic the treble treble in Saturday’s Scottish Cup final.

Budge insists Levein, who also acts as director of football and sits on the board, would be the first person she thinks of if the team defy the odds at Hampden.

However, an underwhelming finish to league season – which began with Hearts leading the table until November – and concerns over the style of play under Levein has led to some sections of the support turning on the former Scotland boss.

And despite Levein’s influence throughout the entire club, Budge insists she would not be scared to call time on the 54-year-old’s dugout tenure.

Budge said: “I hear some supporters saying that Craig is bomb proof, but he’s not, I can say that categorically.

“I’ve been in business a long time and nobody is bomb proof. This has been a very topsy-turvy season.

“Are we still heading in the right direction? I genuinely believe so. As long as I feel that’s the case then I’ll back our plan and I’ll back the people who are working incredibly hard to deliver it.

“Let me say something else. If Craig thought things were going really badly and that he was part of the issue he would be the first person to say, ‘this isn’t working’.

“Now, does that mean I’m not prepared to deal with it if I think it’s not working? No, it doesn’t.

“Right now, the truth is that I’m not unhappy with this season.

“It’s not what we wanted, but we’ve been to a League Cup semi-final at Murrayfield and we’re in a Scottish Cup final at Hampden.

“We’re in the top six. Our financial results will be good. Five years ago [after going into administration] we would probably have been pretty happy to say that this is where we would be.”

Levein, who is in his second spell as manager after replacing Ian Cathro in August 2017 – leading the team to sixth that term – has always had his critics among the Hearts support.

Budge admits she admires him for being able to handle such piercing verbal attacks.

Budge, speaking to the BBC, added: “I don’t know how he has the stamina to cope with it.

“Going back to the first meetings I had with him five years ago one of the things I really liked about him was his openness and his honesty.

“He said, ‘you do realise, Ann, that there are some people who will never accept me’.

“There are a few supporters who will never be happy. We could win the league and the cup, we could do the treble and they would still say Craig Levein is the wrong man for the job.

“That’s built up over all the years he’s been here.

“Not everyone likes his style of football, not everyone likes the way he sets up the team, but there are even more supporters who are happy to give him a chance and thank him for everything he has done and is doing.

“He’s been in football so long and knows how volatile supporters can be and how they can change at the flick of a switch. We’ve all seen it.

“One minute they’re singing his name and the next they’re yelling for his head. I might be speaking to supporters after a disappointing result and I say, ‘who do you think is the most unhappy person today?

“It’s not you, it’s the players, but above all others, it’s Craig’. That’s why I say that if we managed to win on Saturday he’ll be the first person on my mind.”

Budge admits she has not been immune to flak from the fans

She added: “The criticism is not pleasant. I’ve had some of it.

“Never outside of the stadium, but inside the ground, when the result goes against us I’ve had the supporters turn and stare and point and shout, ‘what are you doing about this?!’

“It’s not as vitriolic as it is with Craig, so he deserves a lot of credit for dealing with it.”

 
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