Hearts boss Robbie Neilson tipped for bigger club by owner

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson
Robbie Neilson was appointed head coach by Ann Budge as she agreed her takeover

Hearts owner Ann Budge has tipped head coach Robbie Neilson to move to a bigger club.

But she expects the 34-year-old to help groom his successor at Tynecastle before doing so.

"I am a realist," said Budge. "I would love to hold on to him for an indefinite period.

"In reality, he will move on to a bigger club, I don't doubt that. When it is the right time for him, I hope we as a club will be ready to back-fill."

Interview - Hearts owner Ann Budge

Neilson, who made 200 appearances for Hearts as a player, took charge of the team after Budge funded a move out of administration this summer.

He has led his side to the top of the Scottish Championship, where they have established a nine-point lead over Rangers.

But Budge admitted that appointing someone whose only previous experience was as player-coach at Falkirk and East Fife was a gamble.

"As a supporters, I had seen Robbie as a player and I knew he was here in that capacity," she said following Hearts' annual meeting.

"When he was suggested as a head coach, I was intrigued a little bit.

"Clearly there was a risk because of the lack of experience in that capacity, but he has surpassed everybody's expectations.

"I think he will have a fantastic career."

Neilson was named Scottish Professional Football League manager of the month for the Championship during November.

Hearts director of football Craig Levein
Craig Levein was also praised by Ann Budge for his role as director of football

Budge described his progress as "amazing" and vowed not to be caught out should he move to another club.

"What we have been talking about before he actually even was given the job is essentially succession planning and that is crucial to what we're trying to do here," she said.

"If he was to go tomorrow, it would perhaps give us a bit of a challenge, but I don't think that will happen."

Former Hearts and Scotland manager Craig Levein has been mentoring Neilson as director of football.

"Craig has been fantastic," added Budge. "Craig has led all of the football decisions as far as I'm concerned - not picking the team - but he has been a fantastic advisor to me about who to bring in and how things should be run.

"He is doing a great job and the whole football management team are working fantastically together."