Ex-Hearts boss Craig Levein discusses relegation, Ann Budge, Daniel Stendel and ‘sheep’ players

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Craig Levein is adamant that Hearts would not have been propping up the Premiership when football was halted in March had he still been manager, and has blamed a lengthy injury list for the poor results he oversaw.

The former Scotland boss was axed last October with the Tynecastle outfit ahead of 12th place St Mirren on goal difference.

Hearts had won only one of their first 11 games of the season after also wrapping up the previous campaign with two victories from 14 outings.

CRAIG LEVEIN at a press conferenceLevein was hampered by a string of injuries to key players such as Christophe Berra, Steven Naismith, John Souttar, Peter Haring, Michael Smith and Uche Ikpeazu in that time.

Current boss Daniel Stendel did not fare much better, winning only two league games prior to the coronavirus leading to football being postponed three months ago.

And with Hearts having had the worst points per game ratio at the basement – four points adrift of safety – the Gorgie side have subsequently been relegated to the Championship.

However, Levein, who remained in a backroom role at Hearts until the start of this month having also served as director of football, is confident he would have led the team higher up the table.

He said: “It depends who you speak to, doesn’t it? Some people think it’s all my fault! 

“I can’t put my hands up and say that I’m not responsible in any way, shape or form because the start of the season obviously we struggled.

“I could sit here and talk about the number of important players we had injured but ultimately you’re judged by your results. 

“I do make a genuine case that I do feel that if I’d stayed in place then we wouldn’t have been in the league position that we were in because we had good players coming back from injury.

“Austin (MacPhee) had a go at it (as caretaker) and it didn’t work for him. 

“You could argue Daniel’s had a go at it and it’s not particularly worked for him either. I think the same problems still existed.

“I had enough faith my ability and once we got Steven Naismith, Peter Haring, John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu, these players back on the field, that we would have had a good chance of catching the teams above us.

“I feel desperately sorry for the Hearts supporters that we’re in the position we’re in but I know myself that I did everything I could to make the team as successful as possible.”

Stendel

Asked if he thinks the team improved under Stendel, Levein, speaking to BBC Radio Scotland, added: “I don’t know, it’s a difficult question for me. I didn’t watch all the games. 

“For me to analyse whether the team is better or worse wouldn’t be the right thing to do when I don’t have all the information.”

Levein also insists he did not agree with owner Ann Budge’s decision to sack him from his dugout role last October.

He added: “In most situations when managers lose their jobs it’s about pressure on the board and it takes a lot for a director or a chairman to be able to go against the supporters if they’re unhappy. 

“I found over my time in football, not just myself but other managers, when the pressure turns on to the board or chairman then the easiest thing is to make a change. 

“The results weren’t good enough, I don’t make any claims that they were but I do believe the unprecedented run of injury problems was the problem. 

“And I do believe that if I had still been in charge and had some of these key players back on the field then things would have kicked on again but I didn’t get that opportunity and I’m not blaming Ann or the board because it’s human nature.

“I wasn’t going to argue with her. I can understand her decision, I didn’t agree with it but I can understand it.”

Sheep

Levein also said the loss of such important players amid a barren run of results was a significant factor when the supporters turned on him because many members of the squad were ‘sheep’.

He added: “There are people within teams who can carry a load, there are others who are good team-mates but they tend to be what I call the sheep, they follow.

“You need your key players to be playing and to be on form and then they make other players look very good. 

“A lot of the time the pressure was falling on the shoulders of players who didn’t have that experience or that character to deal with the pressure. 

“I don’t feel the players who I was relying on let me down I just don’t think they were capable of handling the pressure, there is nothing wrong with that.

“Even under Daniel the same thing was apparent, in the bigger matches the pressure was off and the players were able to perform.”

Levein admits he also took on too much when he remained as director of football after replacing Ian Cathro in the dugout in summer 2017.

He added: “Looking back on it it’s easy to say I bit off more than I could chew doing both jobs at the same time.

“It proved to be extremely difficult. Going back, would I have taken the job again? I probably would have taken the job again but would have had to give up my director of football role as well, it was extremely difficult to do both jobs.”

 
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