Budge: I made mistakes . . . I should’ve axed Levein sooner
It could quite easily be said ‘Yes, I made a mistake’
ANN BUDGE, the Hearts owner, has confessed that she regrets not dismissing Craig Levein during the summer and revealed she was “uncomfortable” with his appointment as head coach in the first place.
Budge addressed shareholders at a fiery annual general meeting in Tynecastle Park’s Gorgie Suite yesterday.
For the first time in her five-year reign, she was without Levein by her side after his dismissal as head coach and director of football in October.
But there was a barrage of questions regarding the former Scotland manager.
The grilling prompted Budge to reflect honestly on Levein’s move from the boardroom to the dugout in September 2017.
“I took Craig on with a very specific remit in mind, he helped me re-establish the football operation at Hearts [as director of football],” said Budge.
“I didn’t ask Craig to offer his services as first-team manager. In truth, I was very uncomfortable with it. But I spoke to him, the board spoke to him and he wanted to do it.
We wanted to back him. It could quite easily be said ‘Yes, I made a mistake’.
“The other mistake I think I made was in not looking for a new manager in the summer.
“If we had done it at that point we could have ensured that Craig left – if not on a high, at a point where there had been some success.
“I think the Scottish Cup final camouflaged things a little bit.
“He didn’t have any desire to leave. He wanted to keep trying to tweak things and wait for players coming back. But maybe I should have taken the decision out of his hands at that point. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
A query regarding why Levein is still employed by the club behind the scenes was met by applause.
It was also suggested his presence may “undermine” the work of his successor, Daniel Stendel, which Budge vehemently dismissed and emphasised the German is comfortable with the decision.
It prompted one shareholder to urge his fellow supporters to stop “kicking the man while he is down”.
“When I came in five and a half years ago, even then there were a hardcore of supporters who would never be Craig fans,” added Budge. “So it’s not new. I don’t know why they can’t drop it. The guy has lost his job. He’s working his way out of the club.”
Budge, meanwhile, revealed Levein’s former assistant, Austin MacPhee, is working from his home in Fife to avoid any “conflicts” amid a changing of the guard at Hearts. He is to play a pivotal role in what appears certain to be a busy January of transfer activity.
“Austin MacPhee is here with a specific remit, a specific job, and he has been asked to work at home so we don’t have a conflict,” continued Budge.
“Austin has a lot of strengths and is clued up on the recruitment, scouting, video analysis; he has been given responsibility for helping to shape the team – moving out players Daniel believes won’t fit his style of football, and identifying players who will.
“Daniel will tell us what he needs and we’ll go about trying to get those players.”
Budge, who confirmed she has started the process of interviewing for the position of sporting director, is also seeking to bring Stendel’s ex-Barnsley assistant Chris Stern to the club.
“Daniel wants to bring in his own assistant and we are working on that at the minute,” she said. “There are contractual obligations that are nothing to do with us.”
While accounts showing a £1.6m profit for the year ending June 2019 were signed off on yesterday, Budge revealed the club are £400,000 down on forecasts for this campaign, largely due to the knock-on effect of dismal performances.
However, asked whether the club have any contingencies in place in the event of relegation, Budge replied: “No we don’t.
“If we get another two or three months down the line and things are not going better, then you can be sure we’ll make contingency plans but, right now, I am optimistic that, given where we are in the season, there is plenty of time to turn this around.”
Ann Budge admitted at the Hearts agm that she was uncomfortable with Craig Levein’s appointment as manager