It's been quite the week for Hearts. Not only did they end their fiercest rival's hopes…
Nobody envied the job Craig Levein had on his hands. Hearts were a sinking ship before the season had even properly kicked off. After the Jambos unceremonious dumping from the League Cup in August, at the hands of second-tier Dunfermline, Levein was chosen as the man to step into the managerial hot seat in Gorgie for the second time.
A tumultuous season followed full of ups and downs. The ups included an impressive home record, ending Celtic’s invincible streak and knocking Edinburgh rivals Hibs out of the Scottish Cup. However, the downs included struggling against top six sides, exiting the Scottish Cup and finishing 18 points behind Hibs. To say it’s been a chaotic season at Tynecastle would be an understatement. And that’s just on the pitch. Off it, we’ve had arguments about the natural order and of course the length of grass.
There will be big changes to this Hearts squad throughout the summer and they’ll certainly be a different-looking side when they line up on the opening day of next season. But what of the man in the dugout? Levein has been here before, remember, at both Hearts and Dundee United. There’s no doubting his pedigree as a manager, but should we be expecting a significant turnaround in Hearts’ fortunes next season? We decided to look at how the former Scotland manager has fared in the past when it comes to his second and subsequent seasons in charge of a club.
Hearts fans will be expecting a huge improvement from their side next season. They’ll say there’s no excuse given that Levein will be able to shape the squad the way he desires. Moreover, he’ll have a full pre-season with said group of players to drill into them what style of play he wants to employ. He’ll have his work cut out to catch Hibs given how well Neil Lennon is doing across the city, but at the very least he’ll be expected to cut the points gap significantly. That, plus a decent cup run would surely be a realistic aim for next season.
Since taking the reigns in August of last year Levein has averaged 1.32 points per game in the Scottish Premiership. Can we expect this to improve next season? A quick glance at the above graph would suggest not but when you scratch the surface that changes slightly. Sure, his points per game dropped from 1.35 to 1.26 in the first two seasons he was in charge at Hearts. However, it’s important to note that he was only in charge for 20 games of the 2000/01 season which might slightly inflate his points per game figure.
Similarly, if you look at the former Scotland manager’s record in the following season it’s evident that results improved on the pitch. The 1.7 points per game average in 2003/04 is skewed slightly due to him only being in charge for 10 games, but he lead Hearts to a third-place finish the previous year with an impressive average points tally (1.65). His time at Dundee United also acts as an indicator that Levein picks up more points once he’s settled in. He was able to continuously increase his points-per-game average every season he was at Tannadice, which bodes well for the Gorgie faithful heading into the new campaign.
An obvious blip in this metric is his time spent at Leicester City. There’s no doubt his record there was poor, but in all honesty, it has the least relevance to how he may potentially perform in the Tynecastle dugout next season.
There’s nothing football fans love more than seeing their team win. Of course, finishing as high up the league as possible is important, but supporters would like to see their team winning as many games as they can. Levein has set the bar low in terms of winning matches this season, so nothing but an improvement will acceptable for the Gorgie faithful come the new league campaign.
Let’s focus on Levein’s first tenure in charge of Hearts to start with. His first season saw him achieve a winning percentage of 35% and this increased to 36.84% in 2001/02. It then jumped up once more to a whopping 47.37% in 2002/03. That’s a very impressive increase and resulted in Hearts finishing third in the league. Again, the 2003/04 season looks impressive as his win percentage was 50%. However, Levein was only in charge of 10 games that campaign before he was snapped up by Leicester.
His time at Dundee United throws up a slightly different conclusion. Levein’s winning percentage dipped, only slightly, during his third season in charge of the Tangerines from 36.84% to 34.21%. That said, United finished fifth both seasons and despite winning fewer games actually ended up a point better off in 2008/09. Furthermore, Levein’s winning percentage in the most recent campaign (32.35) is the lowest he’s ever had in any season as a manager in Scotland. Therefore it’s extremely unlikely that won’t improve next season.
A final point is that when Levein leaves a club he always seems to improve the club’s league position season on season. When he took over at Tynecastle in 2000 he finished fifth in his first two seasons but then guided them to third in 2002/03. Similarly, his first season at Dundee United saw them finish ninth but in the next two seasons, Levein’s team finished fifth in the Scottish Premiership. Again, his winning percentage and overall record at Leicester was poor but arguably not as relevant to this discussion.
Levein’s track record suggests that he will improve Hearts during his second season in charge. That said if he wasn’t to win more games, pick up more points and improve the league position it’d be seen as a huge disappointment to many supporters. Simply put, his track record suggests he’ll be able to do exactly what is asked and expected of him.