There came a period where it seemed as if Craig Levein was indispensable as Hearts manager, but Tynecastle owner Ann Budge has kicked that train of thought into touch by taking a defining step.
After no home wins in six months, 16 wins in 50 games, eight of which were in the league, and with the club 11th in the Premiership, the Hearts owner had no choice but to wield the axe.
At a big club like Hearts there is only so long you can survive with form like this and Levein lasted more than most would have. Nobody can question his determination, always talking about his willingness to put things right.
Perhaps that was his downfall in the end.
A glimmer of hope
Levein will know very well that Hearts should be doing better than they are just now but the toxic end to his Hearts reign is one that some may look back on with regret.
The man has dedicated a large part of his life to the Tynecastle club. He has spent 23 of his 55 years on this planet working with the Gorgie club. Question his results, never his dedication to the cause.
A spray-painted ‘Levein out’ in Primary 2 handwriting outside Tynecastle following defeat to St Johnstone was horrible but a sign of how some fans felt. Whilst many didn’t take unnecessary steps like this, large sections of Jambos fans had turned on him.
There was even a protest in September following the Motherwell game, which Levein responded to with hope. A derby win over Hibs and a League Cup semi-final booking was enough to show signs of a comeback only the likes of Oasis could top if Levein pulled it off.
All it was reduced to though was a glimmer of hope and now Budge has been forced to let go of her strongest footballing ally. With Hearts finishing sixth again and again though, she clearly thought something had to change.
Hearts have made big strides in the right direction over the past five years and there’s still time to turn around what some seem to deem a sinking ship yet.
After two below-average seasons at Hearts, most bosses would’ve been axed, but not Levein. Budge admired Levein’s football knowledge, and more importantly, his knowledge of Hearts.
She backed him again and again but clearly she thinks the time is right for change. She gambled her own reputation to try and save Levein’s credibility, hoping that he would come good and all would be well in the Hearts support.
A crippling injury crisis, bad results, and large sections of fan disengagement later though, her mindset has had to switch.
A sad end for a proper Hearts man in Levein
Jambos are demanding, often brutal at times in the hope the best can come for the club they fought to save. It can be loud and brazen, and in some quarters, completely unreasonable.
A small section of morons have taken it too far over the past couple of months but the point remains. Levein took enormous criticism from all quarters in equal measure of fair and inaccurate circumstances.
You’d read some of the comments on social media and in the newspaper columns and wonder whether he’d killed a man in cold blood.
Most people in Scottish football have had something to say about Levein over the past few months, which me included, hasn’t always been heartwarming. It’s this which makes Levein’s Hearts end a particularly sad one.
‘As they too his soul they stole his pride’ is one phrase that comes to mind. A man has been put out a job, yet pundits like Kris Boyd and Michael Stewart want to be first to the post in taking final parting shots at a man who’s had something that he holds dear taken from him.
Some fans too have wished Levein no kind regards in his departure, which is quite disheartening given his commitment to the job. For most though, whilst an overwhelming majority agree that change is needed, it is with a tinge of sadness.
Fans desperately wanted it to work for Levein but it just hasn’t happened. As sad as it is, the merciless critics and pundits who want him to fall at every corner will follow him wherever he goes next.
At 55 the man himself has so much more to give and there’s no doubt that until the end of the season, he will give his all for Heart of Midlothian Football Club. That’s all he ever does.
It was always fabled he wasn’t bombproof and that has now been materialised. His departure has been a sad one, but Hearts do need a fresh face to lead them to the promised land of being Scotland’s third force.
Hearts are a sleeping Scottish football giant, ready to be awoken by this defining moment in their modern history.