SHELLEY KERR deserves to be a contender for the Hearts job. And if a vacancy comes up at Hibernian soon her name ought to be in the hat for that one, too. In reality she probably won’t land either position. But there is no reason why she shouldn’t at least be in the equation these days whenever roles like these crop up.

Several bookmakers chalked up Kerr as an outsider for Tynecastle in the immediate aftermath of Craig Levein’s sacking on Thursday afternoon. These next manager markets tend to comprise an element of second guessing and speculation with a spot of promotional attention-seeking. Some names are chucked into the public domain to cause a stir and spark a bit of debate. And Kerr was the one that jumped out as the bookies offered odds on who might be next for the Hearts dug-out.

The Scotland manager probably won’t get it. For all Hearts owner Ann Budge has shown herself to be an innovative, pioneering figure in Scottish football – and not one who would shy away from a risky appointment – this feels like too big a leap at the wrong time.

Whoever eventually becomes the first female manager of an SPFL club will find themselves under enormous scrutiny, regardless of their background or achievements. Given the mess Hearts find themselves embroiled in and the depth of unhappiness of their supporters, this doesn’t feel like the best time to be embarking on a ground-breaking appointment that would attract attention from all around the world.

It is a similar story at Easter Road where chief executive Leeann Dempster almost certainly wouldn’t shy away from giving Kerr a crack if the circumstances were different. Hibs, like their city rivals, are too deep in the mire to take a punt on the unknown right now.

But, PR stunt or not, at least female managers like Kerr are finally being acknowledged as viable candidates for jobs in the men’s game. And rightly so.

If there are obvious, physical reasons why men and women can’t share a football pitch, then there ought to be no barriers to females holding down other roles within the men’s game. Budge and Dempster have both proven to be shrewd additions at executive level, while there are also female match officials involved in SPFL matches.

A first female manager operating within the league structure ought to be the next step. Kerr, of course, is already a pioneering figure on that front. When she became manager of Stirling University in the Lowland League in 2014 it was the first time a female had taken charge of a team at that level anywhere in Britain.

She left that post to take on the Scotland job in 2017, leading them to this year’s World Cup. And if there deserves to be scrutiny both of the manner of Scotland’s inglorious exit and the way Kerr handled the post-mortem with her players, then there are plenty of other positives on her coaching CV– including a successful spell at Arsenal – that underline her credentials.

If Hearts and Hibs represent too big for a first step, then it remains something of a mystery that Kerr hasn’t been offered a job in the lower end of the Premiership or even in the Championship or below. Perhaps chairmen and chief executives are reluctant to be the first to dip their toes into that particular water for fear of the backlash from fans if it doesn’t work out.

Or perhaps too many in boardrooms have their minds closed to the possibility that a female coach could be better qualified and equipped to do the job than a male one.

Of course, the Scottish women’s game isn’t exactly helping to make the case for female managers. Of the 16 clubs comprising the two tiers of the women’s Premier League, only one – Spartans – has a female as head coach.

Glasgow City have just reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League with former Aberdeen and Scotland striker Scott Booth in charge, Rangers have appointed a former (men’s) player in Gregory Vignal, while Celtic are managed by Eddie Wolecki Black.

That trio and the rest are all no doubt considered by their clubs to be the best coaching talent available but it must be disheartening for senior players forging their way through the women’s game to look at that patriarchal hierarchy and wonder just where the pathway for progression is for them when they hang up the boots.

Still, if men are evidently deemed suitable to manage in the women’s game then surely the opposite must be true as well. Kerr might not be the right fit, right now for Hearts but an opportunity for her to enter the SPFL surely can’t be too far away.

And another thing

THE challenge of stopping the rot in the short term at Tynecastle instead goes to Austin MacPhee who must somehow galvanise his demoralised squad for the League Cup semi-final against Rangers.

Players always insist they are “right behind the manager” whenever said boss is still in post but it will be instructive to note if Hearts play with a greater sense of fluidity and freedom now Levein has departed the scene.

For all the criticism labelled at

the former manager, he has constructed a squad that ought to be performing a lot better than results have shown.