LIKE everyone who has maroon blood running through their veins, the difficulties which Hearts have experienced both on and off the park in recent months have pained Jim Jefferies deeply.

The Tynecastle club spent most of last season rooted to the bottom of the Premiership table and Craig Levein was sacked as manager in October after angry supporters’ protests in the stands and outside the stadium.

Then came the coronavirus outbreak in March and the controversial decision to curtail the Premiership season prematurely, declare final placings on a points per game basis and relegate the Gorgie outfit.

Even by Hearts’ own standards it has been quite a turbulent campaign.

So when Jefferies, who has been out of the game since suffering a heart attack last September, received a phone call from owner Ann Budge earlier this month enquiring if he would consider returning to act as an advisor to the board he leapt at the chance.

The 69-year-old, who spent the majority of his professional playing career at his boyhood heroes as well as two spells in the dugout, is honoured and excited to be asked to play a part in their recovery.

“To be invited back in a boardroom capacity having been a player and the manager is great,” he said. “There aren’t too many people who have done it. Tommy Walker maybe. Having been brought up a Hearts man and been connected to the club for so many years, it is the icing on the cake to be brought back at my age.”

There will certainly be plenty for Jefferies to address when he gets started. Hearts are currently embroiled in a legal battle with the SPFL. But it looks unlikely they will return to league action until the Championship gets underway in October.

The team has also been underperforming for some time. Their signings were heavily criticised last year. He will have to determine whether the first team squad is, as many have stated, too large and lacking in sufficient quality.

Yet, Jefferies is adamant there are many reasons to be optimistic for the future. Having been involved during the ill-fated Vladimir Romanov era, he can see much to build on in the current set-up.

“It is a new start,” he said. “We have a great club, a great stadium, great facilities behind the scenes and a great support who will stick with them whatever. How can you not be optimistic about Hearts?

“There are probably a lot of managers out there who wish they had Ann Budge on their club board. I know there were a lot of angry supporters earlier in the season. But some other chairman wouldn’t have been so supportive of their manager. Nobody could complain about that.

“There is a lot to be upbeat about. We are starting afresh, there is a new manager in Robbie Neilson and Ann is trying to sort out things off the park. She will deal with that side and we will deal with football matters.”

Jefferies, who also spent stints in charge of Falkirk, Bradford, Dunfermline and Kilmarnock, was a manager for long enough to know how quickly form can desert a team. He doesn’t subscribe to the commonly-held view that poor recruitment was to blame for Hearts’ struggles.

In fact, he was impressed by how much money Craig Levein and Daniel Stendl were handed by Budge to strengthen and is confident that Neilson will receive the backing he needs to get the Tynecastle club into the top flight.

“No manger gets everything right,” he said. “You just have to get more right than wrong. If you don’t you won’t last long. You have to get players in to fit the way you want to play.

“Yes, Hearts have signed quite a few players in the last few years. But the players who have come in have all had decent pedigrees, good track records. I think they had the necessary quality but, for whatever reason, they weren’t showing it in games.

“With the squad we have, we should never have been in the position we are in. There have been injuries, but injuries are part and parcel of the game. You have to have a strong enough squad. But I had the same problems. You have to try and put it right.

“I saw them a few times last season and they weren’t doing well, but there were plenty of games left. I don’t know why they couldn’t have played out the season. They could have been finished in a month and would have avoided all this aggro.

“They weren’t performing well for long spells last year, but they got great support from the board to try and turn it around.”

Jefferies added: “Now there are a few things to be fixed and we will have to go in there and try and help get the club back where it should be – back in the Premiership and challenging at the right end of the league as opposed to fighting battles at the bottom. It shouldn’t happen to a cub of Hearts’ size. But it happens. Now is the time to move on.

“We have got a young manager who has been there before and has more experience than the last time he was in charge. He did a great job at Dundee United and hopefully he can do a great job for Hearts. I know him well. I gave him his debut during my first spell at Tynecastle. I was in charge of one of his teams at his testimonial. I know Robbie very well.”

Jefferies insists he has fully recovered from his health scare and has never felt in better physical condition. So much so, that he has refused to rule out staying involved in some capacity when his six months is up. He is hopeful Hearts will be well on their way to promotion by that stage.

“I met Ann and we had a chat,” he said. “She explained what she’s looking for. She wants the right person for sporting director and wants to take her time to make the right appointment. She has asked for my help in the interim. I have to go in and advise here. Whether she takes my advice or not is another matter. But we will certainly work together for the benefit of the club and the team.

“If Robbie wants my help he just needs to ask. But I will never interfere. I am an adviser and consultant to the board. I am there to give advice and support to Ann and the board. Our aim is to get Hearts doing well again on and off the park.

“I was grateful to Edinburgh City (Jefferies was sporting director at the League Two club between 2017 and 2019) for giving me the chance to help them out and establish themselves. I never thought I would be stepping up to Hearts to try and get themselves back into the top division.

“It is initially for a short period, but we will review that and see how things are going. If we are both happy with everything then it might be a bit longer.”