It is 12 months to the day Heart of Midlothian announced the appointment of the permanent management team of Steven Naismith, Frankie McAvoy and Gordon Forrest. Only, there was a twist.

"In order to comply with UEFA regulations, with Steven not having the required Pro License qualification, a requirement to manage in European competition, Frankie will be named Head Coach with Steven serving as Technical Director," read the club's statement when it dropped at 4pm on June 7, 2023.

It was a situation that raised plenty of eyebrows across the Scottish football landscape and generated plenty of comment and criticism. No matter how it was dressed up, from the outside it appeared a clunky setup that was always going to be used as a stick to beat the club with should the team start poorly.

Which is what happened.

"It's been a journey," Naismith said in May when looking back at the season. "I've enjoyed it. It seems a long time ago now, the start of the season, the structure and set-up - what's funny is the narrative around that. It was so far from the truth - 'the players don't know who they are talking to' - it's funny looking back at it. We just got off to a slow start. Simply that was it."

The Hearts head coach, now undertaking his UEFA Pro-Licence meaning he can retain his title in Europe next season, pulled the curtain back in an interview with Hearts Standard and discussed the working relationship within a structure that has not changed in those 12 months, other than the title of the positions of himself and McAvoy.

When Naismith came into the job he had a clear idea of how he wanted to work and it required collaboration.

"It was good," he said. "To be honest, before I even had the job, that was always a clear structure that I was going to work in – no matter where I got a job. Because I have seen managers that try to do it all and say, ‘We are doing it this way because I am in charge’, and I have seen managers who delegate and it makes it more of a team feeling. That is the way we are as a club with all the staff.

"Ultimately if there is a decision to be made then I’ll make it but I want everyone on the staff to voice their opinion and say what they want, and then I’ll decide whether I think that is good information or if I agree with it. That’s been a big positive for us this season.

"It’s not just me, Frankie, Gordy [Forrest] and Gall [goalkeeping coach, Paul Gallacher] on the football side but the support staff at every part of it have had the power to make their own decisions and work in the way that we all think works."

Naismith will seek opinions and advice from all his staff, aware some are more qualified or have better experience than himself.

He will also challenge the staff. It's one thing expressing an opinion but the substance behind it is as important or even more so. Perhaps reminiscent of a maths teacher asking you to show your working as to how you got to that answer.

Read more

"We can ultimately make a decision and then when I question them on it, they’ve got an answer for why they did it," he explained. "That’s the way it’s got to be for everyone on the football side.

"Sometimes you will make bad decisions or wrong decisions and that is what it is. But as long as you have an understanding of why you made it, I am comfortable with that.

"And with Frankie, Gordy and Gall – everybody’s expertise is different. I see the game differently to them, I’ve not got anywhere near the coaching experience of the three of them. I played at a better level than them – all these different parts give us our own strong attributes.

"I’ve said it all along that I am comfortable not being brilliant at everything and not knowing things. I’ll ask the questions and ask for advice from people I work with and have worked with – that’s definitely the best way to be successful."

For all the collaboration, Naismith is still a very hands-on coach. So, is ceding responsibility in certain areas or delegating would difficult?

"I’m totally comfortable with it," he said. "In every area of the game – how we play in possession, out of possession, set-plays, whatever it may be – it’s discussed in the office and there is a clear blueprint of how we do things and what we want from the games, and we all know it’s what I think is the right way.

"We all follow that and then Frankie goes on set-plays."

(Image: SNS)

Set pieces have been the most notable delegation. McAvoy has been a prominent figure throughout the season issuing instructions from the dugout when the team is defending a corner. 

How does it work? What does it look like? And what happens if Naismith wants something to change?

"He will lead that whatever way he sees fit," he explained. "We factor time into our sessions to get the pitch time for that. And if there’s a change we will then discuss it as a group. 

"I think it was Dundee at the end of the season where they kept over-hitting their corners and blocked us at Tynie. They hit the back post and boom, the back man blocks our back man and it’s a free header. Within that moment, I felt more comfortable putting somebody on that player so they’re not involved in a fight or a block, just deal with the back man.

"I made that call and said to Frankie to move it to that. But on the whole, the research into each team, how they set up and how we’re going to set up – that’s fundamentally left to Frankie because that’s a strong point of Frankie’s."

In turn, it has been a strong point at Hearts. The management setup that was questioned 12 months ago, understandable considering how it had to be presented, has delivered a successful season with the only change being a job title here and job title there.