Stewart tells it like it is and if his comments tread on a few toes, that is something which clearly does not perturb him. Not surprisingly, everyone has latched on to his remarks on current Celtic assistant coach John Collins who was Michael’s manager when he was at Hibs. Collins’ man-management skills (or lack of them) were laid bare and given the high-profile position he is now in, Stewart’s comments garnered attention.
It has been said that up in Aberdeen, Eddie Turnbull laid the egg and years later Alex Ferguson hatched it. The same process could well be underway at Tynecastle.
Back in the summer of 2008, László was appointed to take charge of a club which effectively had had no manager in place for a year. Stewart revealed that Anatoly Korobochka didn’t want to combine the job with his Director of Football post (and some would say he didn’t even fulfil that role) while Stevie Frail may have been the coach, management material he was not.
László set about his job and his way of thinking had been anathema to those in Scotland. The Hungarian laid down a structure which required his team to think and adapt to situations on the pitch. The rigid formations used in Scotland served a purpose but up until a certain point which cried out for a plan B that would usually never come. László changed that.
Formations of 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 have increased in use throughout British football but back in 2008 they were not commonplace. László, according to Stewart, employed both sets for the Hearts squad to work with. Using 4-2-3-1 when on the offensive and quickly switching to 4-1-4-1 when the need to defend arose. Sound familiar? It should because as Stewart pointed out, Pep Guardiola employed it at Barcelona.
However, while the Catalan was labelled as a footballing visionary, back in Scotland, László was derided as being ‘anti-football’ by some still pining for the free-scoring Hearts team of 2006. Difference was that the Burley/Rix/Ivanauskas squad had a decent quota of strikers and two midfielders in Paul Hartley and Rudi Skacel who would score for fun. László didn’t have any strikers of quality to speak of with his only options being the ‘sneeze-and-he-is-injured’ Mike Tullberg, a ‘hopelessly-out-of-his-depth’ Juho Makela and bakery fan Christian Nade who László thought was an overweight Heriot-Watt University student upon first glance at the club’s training HQ at Riccarton.
With only defenders and midfielders to effectively work with, one could argue that László’s hand may have already been forced into doing away with the traditional 4-4-2 model but going from Stewart’s comments, he was probably going to do that anyway. Stewart said he quickly bought into the new way of thinking and others like Bruno Aguiar and Kristos Karapidis no doubt did so too having more than likely experienced similar styles of coaching prior to joining Hearts. It was effective and it worked as Hearts, having failed to make the top half of the league the previous season, finished third and qualified for Europe.
Sadly for László he was not allowed to build on that as the board at the time under the Vladimir Romanov reign would not offer new deals to the likes of Aguiar and Karapidis and no money for Csaba to strengthen the striking department. Matters would come to a head which ended, as was the way with managers working under Romanov, with László being sacked in January 2010.
Unfortunately, as touched upon earlier, those outwith Hearts tend to associate László with negative football. Well, try obtaining qualification for Europe using 4-4-2 but with only mediocre players masquerading as strikers and see how you get on. Given the context, what László did was remarkable and given in a season dominated by Rangers and Celtic he picked up the manager of the year award – no easy feat. Yet club chairman in Britain seem reticent to give him a post, no doubt influenced by the rumour that has since grown legs and a bushy tail that he is supposedly the embodiment of dull football.
One of Stewart’s old team-mates who also played under László during that 2008/09 season is a certain Robbie Neilson – the current manager of Hearts. It would appear that given the formations that the Tynecastle side have been using since the former right-back took charge, that somebody else bought into the László principle.
Watching Hearts this season does have a degree of familiarity to it. When on the offensive it’s 4-2-3-1 and when it’s time to track back, 4-1-4-1. It is clear where Neilson has drawn his inspiration from and he has one big advantage on his former mentor. He has a decent crop of strikers to work with and has been given license to strengthen that department this month if he sees fit.
However, while all plaudits heading towards Neilson are deserved, it is still puzzling as to why László is still spoken of in negative terms. After all, Neilson is effectively using his blueprint with the added bonus of not being handicapped on the striker front.
Should Neilson go on and hatch László’s egg in the same manner as Ferguson did with Turnbull’s up at Pittodrie all those years ago, maybe if and when that time comes, people will at long last give the Hungarian the long overdue credit he deserves.