Budge: I made mis­takes . . . I should’ve axed Levein sooner

Evening Times - - FOOTBALL - ALAN TEM­PLE

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

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