1310: Championship: Craig Levein can
by : David Hulott
It says much about the current standing of the Scottish Premier League that Craig Levein decided that switching from a club that he had helped establish as the third force in Scottish football for one in the lower reaches of the English Coca-Cola Championship was seen as a career progression.
Levein’s move south comes with the inevitable comparisons with Martin O’Neill that all who occupy the managerial hot-seat at The Walkers Stadium are forced to contend. Levein looks to have as good a chance as any of matching the standards set at the club under O’Neill, having already been compared to Arsene Wenger, Sir Alex Ferguson and the aforementioned Celtic boss since leaving Scotland.
His reputation as one of the more cerebral managers in the game was enhanced by his imaginative punishment of two Hearts players who were caught playing golf on the eve of a game. Rather than the customary fine, Levein made them run up and down the stand with their bags of golf clubs. One can but wonder what punishment he would have meted out had he been in charge at the time of the incident in La Manga back in March.
The new manager took little time to make his mark with the Foxes, with Dave Bassett rapidly dispatched from his post as Director of Football. Robert Kelly, a former Leicester player, was brought in as his new assistant from Blackburn Rovers, where he had built up a reputation for his work with the youth academy.
As with most teams that are relegated from the Premiership these days, the financial reality ensured that Leicester embarked on the traditional close season ritual of having to rebuild their squad as a means of cost cutting. Levein has expressed a desire to get the average age of the squad down. This is a perfectly reasonable target given that Micky Adams did perhaps overplay the experience card just a tad. Even so, Adams has bequeathed a decent set of players to his successor, with the likes of David Connolly, Jordan Stewart, Peter Canero, Gareth Williams, Matt Heath and Tommy Wright giving him a decent base of relatively young players from which to build.
It will be interesting to see if the new manager raids his former club to bolster the ranks at Leicester. The financial situation at Hearts is such that the Edinburgh side have 12 players out of contract at the end of the current season, with the club unlikely to be in a position to prevent any of them seeking new clubs (although that could change under prospective new owner Vladimir Romanov). It’s perhaps significant that the agent of one of those, Dutch striker Mark de Vries, has already indicated that the player would favour a move to England. Others that might be of interest are Steven Pressley, Phil Stamp, Alan Maybury and Patrick Kisnorbo. Elsewhere, the one-month loan signing of Arsenal’s Stuart Taylor to deputise for the injured Ian Walker in goal was a shrewd move, with Levein hinting that the deal may become a permanent one.
His time in Edinburgh suggests that the Foxes under Levein will be a side built around fitness and a strong work ethic, both of which are regarded as prerequisites at this level in the English game. With only six-points to make up on a play-off place, he may still have an opportunity to fulfil his ambition of testing himself in the Premiership sooner rather than later.