‘He’s s****, he’s s****, he’s REALLY s****’, Robbie Neilson recalls George Burley pre-match meetings at Hearts


ROBBIE NEILSON admits he has layered aspects of George Burley’s man-management into his own coaching style after lifting the lid on Hearts’ X-rated pre-match meetings under the former Scotland boss.

The current Jambos gaffer lapped up Burley’s positivity and disregard for the opposition’s strengths during his six-month tenure at Tynecastle.

That confidence proved justified, with the men in maroon embarking on a run of eight wins from 10 SPL games in 2005/06 and sparking suggestions they could end the Old Firm’s stranglehold on the top-flight title.

Robbie Neilson in jovial mood at Riccarton | Hearts news
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson

And Neilson has revealed how Burley convinced Hearts’ lavishly-assembled stars such as Rudi Skacel, Takis Fyssas and Edgaras Jankauskas that they had nothing to fear from anyone.

He said: “George kept things very simple and I liked a lot of his stuff. I take some of it into my own way with the players. He was just very positive.

“I’ll always remember laughing in the pre-match meetings because he would put the opposition team up on the board – and you could never tell what the formation was. He’d just write it all over the shop.

“Then he’d just go through them going ’s****, s****, really s****, horrendous, I don’t know how he’s getting a game, murder, horrific, my God he’s s****’.

“A lot of the foreign boys hadn’t played in Scottish football before so they didn’t know the opposition. Guys like Miko [Saulas Mikolaunas], [Takis] Fyssas], Ibrahim Tall, Julian Brellier didn’t know better.

“They were going into games thinking ‘the manager has told us they are rubbish – we’re going to batter them.

“George was about the positives of our team and how we were miles better than everyone else. There wasn’t a lot of tactical stuff. It was about keeping everyone happy, enjoying it, fit and be positive. That worked.”

However, Burley’s love affair with the Jambos was a fleeting one and eccentric Russian owner Vladimir Romanov sacked the high-flying manager in January 2006, replacing him with Graham Rix.

Speaking to the Scarves Around the Funnel podcast, Neilson mooted that Romanov may have wielded the axe because Burley and the players were stealing ‘his’ spotlight.

He continued: “George was doing a phenomenal job and was getting a lot of attention from the media. I think Vladimir thought Hearts was HIM and it was becoming George and the players being the club.

“I don’t know the real reason for that [Burley leaving] but I could see that being a factor.”

Although Romanov’s tenure as owner was tumultuous and, ultimately, ruinous, Neilson can still see the funny side of some of the colourful businessman’s antics.

He laughed: “My favourite memory of Romanov is punching Roman Bednar during [2005] pre-season.

“Big Roman though he was a bit of a boxer and had been telling Vlad about how good he was. Vlad boxed as well so they produced a pair of gloves each after a game.

“We were all in a circle around them and Roman, being six-foot-two, was taking it easy and didn’t want to punch him.

“All of a sudden, Romanov just opened up and put him on his arse. Roman Bednar never said anything again. That was him done.”

Neilson may have been an integral part of one of the most talented Hearts sides of recent years, helping the club win the 2006 Scottish Cup, but he is modest regarding his own talent.

And he believes his own limitations have made him a better manager, drawing a sharp contrast with his old boss at Leicester City, Paulo Sousa.


He continued: “Let’s be honest, I was rubbish. Technically I wasn’t great, I wasn’t the fastest, but I had to figure it out. I had to try to be a step ahead of people and when I played in the top flight I could figure out what the wide players were going to do.

“It was about details and giving yourself an advantage. It’s the same in management.

“I do believe that nine times out of ten, the better managers weren’t better players. I remember having Paulo Sousa – double Champions League winner with Juventus and Dortmund – down at Leicester.

“Paulo was in training one day and pings a 60-yard pass onto a sixpence, turn to me and says ‘how can you not see that?’ I said ‘gaffer, I don’t have two Champions League medals!’

“He couldn’t get his head around how we couldn’t do what he used to be able to do.”

Turning his attention to his return to Hearts and the upcoming challenges, Neilson added: “What would be success in the next three years? European football, a cup win and challenging at the top end of the league [Premiership] – it’s pretty simple. We just need to do it now.”

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