The big story in Scotland this week is not what happened on the pitch, but what happened in the stands.
Toward the end of the first half of Aberdeen’s 2-0 defeat of Hearts, television cameras caught Hearts Director of Football Craig Levein in the stands talking with coach Jon Daly.
Then, cameras followed Daly as he walked down the steps and back on to the sideline to talk with fellow coach Austin McPhee. The discussion occurred during a particularly poor part of the match for the visitors – Hearts had gone down 1-0 but were being overrun in the midfield.
It looked to viewers and the broadcast team that Levein was dictating tactics to his young manager, Ian Cathro.
After the match news came out that Levein joined the players and coaches in the locker room at halftime. In the second half Cathro brought out the same line-up and essentially the same formation, and didn’t make a major adjustment to his tactics until Aberdeen grabbed a second goal.
After the match, Cathro defended himself against charges that his Director of Football was trying to control his squad:
I work in a certain way, I’m very used to working with a collective staff. I’ve always been involved with technical staff that has people in different vantage points connected to us throughout the game.
Controversy seems to follow Catro around, and some of it can be attributed to the fact he is so different. Hearts is his first managerial position and he earned it through time spent as a coach, not as a former player.
His age also works against him – the undercurrent of much of the criticism he receives revolves around his young age (30) and lack of time spent in Scotland. As Kris Boyd wrote in his weekly column:
He’s probably not been this excited [upon being hired by Hearts] since FIFA17 came out on Playstation.
So is the criticism fair? As Derek Rae noted on the BT Sport commentary, directors of football sitting on the bench is common in some European leagues.
After the match, Levein and Cathro made clear that Levein was consulting during the game, and the director did not speak during halftime.
In addition, having a soccer-knowledgeable person sitting a few rows up from the stands allows for a different viewpoint on the proceedings.
It is entirely possible that Levein literally had a better, wider angel of the field that allowed him to relay some knowledge to the coaching staff on possible changes or tweaks to the game plan.
The problem with this supposition is the result. Even if Levein was simply consulting, Cathro made no changes to his strategy until it was essentially too late.
Also look at the statements made after the match – Cathro talked about his process and the value of consultation.
But when do you hear Jose Mourinho discuss the importance of his assistants or Guardiola going through how he and his coaches create a game plan?
Rather than assert himself as the one in control, Cathro almost seemed too quick to defer to others. This may be his age or his insecurity.
The other side of this is that this discussion might not have come up except for Hearts run of form. Since Cathro took over, Hearts have suffered eight defeats in seventeen matches.
They sit fifth in the table but, with Rangers stumbling, there is an opportunity for a club like Hearts to grab a European place.
Hearts have had some impressive results under Cathro, but overall the team is underachieving. This weekend’s loss loss to Aberdeen showed little tactical acumen an adjustment, the things which the manager supposedly excels.
The press sometimes like to make mountains out of molehills, but at times the circumstances make those molehills look really big. Ian Cathro’s status as the next hotshot manager is is danger of fading.