Robertson all heart and soul for new cause

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The Independent Football

John Robertson is not so much a new face on the scene, as an old flame rekindling a passion. Home is most definitely where the heart is for the man simply known as Mr Hearts.

It has been six years since Robertson pulled on a maroon shirt but more than 27,000 turned up on Thursday night just to glimpse their idol standing by the dugout. Heart of Midlothian's record goalscorer could not help them upset a classy Schalke 04 side in the Uefa Cup, but his influence as their new manager may be far more lasting for the Edinburgh club.

The 40-year-old was lured back to Hearts - for whom he scored 310 times between 1983 and 1998 - in midweek to succeed Craig Levein, who had departed for Leicester City. Facing the Bundesliga's second-best side just 24 hours later was, admittedly, a baptism of fire.

Robertson, though, will be on much more certain ground today. He has spent all season at Pittodrie - the ground that Inverness Caledonian Thistle rent from Aberdeen - so a trip back there to face the landlords for his first Scottish Premier League duty since switching to Hearts is highly ironic.

"The crowd were great," enthused Robertson, as he hid the disappointment of his baptism being ruined by the 1-0 defeat to Schalke which leaves Hearts bottom of Group A without a point after two games. "While I still believe Tynecastle is our rightful home, the use of Murrayfield allowed us to get another 10,000 people in to see the match."

Hearts pulled in the fifth highest gate of the 16 Uefa Cup ties - outdone only by Stuttgart, Seville, Besiktas and Middlesbrough - and that backing underlined the potential that Robertson could unlock if the club's new owner, Lithuanian millionaire Vladimir Romanov, makes some money available after four years of frugality.

"Hearts are the only club I would have left Inverness Caledonian Thistle for," reflects Robertson. "The emotional pull of this club was too strong and becoming manager was always my ambition. You have to aim high and Hearts is one of the top jobs in Scotland and I want to stress that I am here because of my coaching ability and not because of of my previous record as a player. That might bring added pressure.

"No amount of goals or past glories as a player with this club will help me now," he declared. "At the end of the day, managers live or die by their results. I took this job because I was not sure if I would ever be asked a gain, or if it would come round again."

It helped that he had a glowing endorsement from the man he is succeeding. Levein was a team-mate of Robertson's from 1983 to his own retirement in 1995, though that is not why he recommended him.

"John did well at Inverness and was a good coach before that at Livingston," said Levein who flew up to Edinburgh on Thursday to see the team he had left just six days earlier play Schalke. He will bring tremendous enthusiasm, a great knowledge of the game and a burning desire to succeed. There is also the opportunity for a little freshness. I was manager here for four years and John will bring some new ideas.

"Becoming manager of Hearts, a club he loves, will mean everything to him. However, a lot of supporters have been longing for his return. So many fans remember him as their hero when he was a player and became the record goalscorer."

Robertson wants to build on Levein's foundations. "Craig finished third in the last two seasons and a lot of people think that is the best Hearts can do but you have got to be ambitious," declared Robertson. "I am not going to settle for third. I want to challenge the Old Firm for titles and bring European football here. That's why it was special playing Schalke and it will be when we go Basle in three weeks' time."