Cooney and Black

So, who is really calling the shots at Hearts?

Cooney and Black Queen of Hearts
THERE is no doubt that Ann Budge is running the show at Tynecastle.

The hugely successful Edinburgh businesswoman is indeed the Queen of Hearts.

Secret Squirrel is reliably informed that the 67-year-old has her finger on the pulse to the extent that she insists on sanctioning every email sent on the club’s behalf.

But who is calling the shots on the playing side? Is it head coach Robbie Neilson or Director of Football Craig Levein?

Neilson, who was promoted from his role as U20s Development Manager to his current position by Budge in succession to Gary Locke in May last year – working for Levin – has hardly put a foot wrong.

Having overseen Hearts’ return to the Premiership on the back of a remarkable Championship campaign that culminated in them winning promotion by a record 21 points, Neilson’s stock soared.

Hearts’ whirlwind start to the season appeared to confirm that the quietly-spoken 35-year-old Paisley-born coach was a cut above average.

For a time Hearts sat top of the SPFL. Five consecutive wins even had some pundits making the absurd suggesting that the Jambos had the credentials to challenge for the title.

But nothing is forever in football, and, invariably, sooner rather than later the bubble bursts. In Hearts’ case, the reality check was successive defeats by Hamilton and Inverness Caley Thistle.

Suddenly, Neilson is no longer seen by some at least as infallible. Levein, meanwhile, remains in the background, seemingly happy to let Neilson take the plaudits – and dodge the brickbats.

But my intelligence network assures me that the former Scotland coach has remained active in instructing Neilson on playing matters from his seat alongside Burge in the stand.

According to my informants, Levein is in constant communication with the coach by walkie-talkie connecting him to the dug-out.

To what extent Levein is directing operations on the pitch is unclear. But he undoubtedly has a sizeable input when it comes to tactics and substitutions.

This being so, perhaps the Hearts fans should be a tad concerned, for this was the man who once sent the national team out in a 4-6-0 formation to face the Czech Republic, after all!

Neilson has so far largely avoided any criticism of note, but with Aberdeen and Celtic to be faced in successive matches, that situation may be about to change.

If so, will Levein, who would never win a popularity contest with some of his ex-team-mates, I am assured by one of their number, hold his hands up and accept a share of the responsibility?

Watch this space…


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