Heart of Midlothian Re-Appoint Robbie Neilson as Conflict With Dundee United Continues

Robbie Neilson

Heart of Midlothian have dramatically announced that they re-appoint Robbie Neilson as their new Head Coach. Normally, this story might cause a brief glance from neutral supporters. However, it is one full of shocks and twists that a scriptwriter would be proud of.

Neilson – a former Hearts player – agrees a three-year contract to return to the Edinburgh club. Nothing too shocking there. Except, he has joined from Dundee United. Again, nothing really shocking. Except, Hearts and Dundee United are at war over a place in next season’s Scottish Premier League (SPL).

Heart of Midlothian Re-Appoint Robbie Neilson

Hearts Versus Dundee United Part One

This season’s SPL, like other worldwide leagues, has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of the clubs in Scottish football decided to support a plan to finish the 2019/20 season early. This was despite teams having around a quarter of their games to play. There has been much fall-out from this decision.

The major controversy is relegation and promotion issues were settled without a full set of fixtures being played. This means that Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer are relegated from their respective divisions. Likewise, Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers are promoted.

Understandably, the three relegated clubs disapprove of this conclusion to the 2019/20 season. Hearts have been the most vocal, even proposing an idea to restructure the Scottish Football League.

However, their proposal was not supported by the majority of the clubs, thereby confirming their relegation. Replacing them in the top-flight are Dundee United. However, Hearts are planning to take legal action against the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL). They are seeking £8 million in compensation but still hope that their relegation is overturned instead.  Meanwhile, Dundee United, along with Raith and Cove Rangers, are planning to “robustly defend” themselves to ensure their respective promotions stand.

Hearts Versus Dundee United Part Two

Today, this battle has taken another turn, as Neilson departs Dundee United for Hearts. Dundee United have agreed to Neilson’s departure, although they are “disappointed”. They will receive a compensation package from Hearts.

Speaking to The Courier, United chairman Mark Ogren said: “Robbie played a huge role in our journey so far, however, we now look towards the future, with a new leader and renewed hope for our fans.”

Neilson began his managerial career at Hearts in 2014 as Head Coach. He stayed with the Tynecastle club until December 2016, when he was poached by English club MK Dons. At the time, Hearts were second in the SPL.

His time at MK Dons did not prove the success that many had expected, and he left by mutual consent in January 2018. MK Dons would finish the 2017/18 season relegated to League Two. However, Neilson was still highly regarded in Scotland.  Within a year of leaving MK Dons, he returned north of the border, accepting Dundee United’s Head Coach role.

At the time, Dundee United were struggling to achieve promotion from the Scottish Championship. They had been relegated from the SPL in 2016, but finally, Neilson has achieved the expectations of United’s supporters. Of course, this is now subject to legal action.

Decline After the Departure of Robbie Neilson

Many Heart of Midlothian supporters point to the departure of Robbie Neilson as the catalyst for their club’s perceived decline. Although, in fairness, if a club is behind Celtic in the SPL, then decline of this club is likely.

However, Hearts managed to steadily finish in the top six of the SPL prior to this season’s dramatic fall. Few predicted that they would battle relegation in 2019/20. Although whether they would have been relegated had the season been completed, is open to much debate.

Certainly, Neilson’s departure could have sparked a decline, as he is one of Hearts’ most successful managers. In 106 games, he recorded 62 wins, which is a win-ratio of more than 50%.

Whether Robbie Neilson can recreate this success, will probably depend on the impact of the COVID-19 situation on football finances. The size of the task of rebuilding Hearts will vary, depend upon which division they play in next season.

There are several former SPL clubs now playing in the Scottish Championship. Most notably Inverness CT will prove strong rivals for any team seeking promotion next season.

The Final Twist

Like all good tales, there is one final twist to this intriguing story. Hearts might not have a manager vacancy!

Neilson has been appointed to replace Daniel Stendel. Although Stendel is under contract until 2022, his contract was to end early if Hearts were relegated.  Theoretically, if Hearts do win their legal battle to overturn their relegation, then Stendel might have expected to be kept on.

There has been no official word on his current situation, except for today’s appointment of Neilson.

Stendel guided Barnsley to promotion from League 1 of the EFL in the 2018/19 season. With this on his CV, then he should expect some interest from clubs either the UK or back in his native Germany.

What the immediate future holds for Hearts, Dundee United and Stendel is unclear. However, it is very doubtful that they will be sending each other Christmas cards this year!


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