YOU'RE never quite sure which direction a conversation with Csaba Laszlo might veer towards next.

This one starts in a corner of Transylvania – Laszlo is currently back in his homeland visiting his 80-year-old mother – before figuratively crossing seas and traversing roads to Edinburgh, the place he now calls home. En route he stops to mention London (where his eldest daughter works for Amazon), Aberdeen (where his youngest has just started university) and everywhere else in between.

But it is to Glasgow we head first. Hearts travel to Ibrox this afternoon for a match that is being billed as an early test of Laszlo's former club's title credentials.

Craig Levein, the former Hearts captain, manager and director of football, said recently he believes the Edinburgh outfit can split Rangers and Celtic this season – a feat that has not been achieved since 2006. Laszlo himself secured a third-place finish in 2009 which resulted in him being named manager of the year but he did not come close to replicating that Herculean effort – owner Vladimir Romanov's whims et al – of three years earlier, and says Hearts supporters expectations should be tempered.

“I am not a dreamer, I am a realist,” he says. “What Craig said is a nice thing to say for the fans, like a nice dream, but you must be realistic. The first target is top six and, if it is possible, to play European football. Hearts are flying high and I think that in professional football results are most important and I know the kind of pressure that Robbie Neilson was facing at the beginning of the season. Many people and many fans were very sceptical about him and Robbie has proved [himself] with his results.”

“But I don't think it is possible to challenge Celtic and Rangers – even for Hearts. Celtic might be lacking in confidence but that will come back. Their squads have more quality, they are bigger and you have to play a lot of games but if you can win against them every single game you build your own confidence and you will stay behind them very close [in the table].”

Laszlo knows Neilson well from his time at Tynecastle and the current Hearts manager succeeded him when his time at Dundee United ended in ignominy three years ago, he says there are no hard feelings but admits he would like to see Neilson adopt a more expansive game.

“We have talked once or twice. I have a very good relationship with him. I know his kids, I know his wife. He has put together a good team but his team is more of a defensive style, it's not very offensive football. That is not a criticism of Robbie, I know him, I know how he was as a player and I know how he thinks as a coach.

“Robbie used to be my captain, I was the one who defended him when Romanov cancelled his contract. Robbie was injured for a long time and Romanov put out [word] saying he wasn't needed. I talked to Mr Romanov for a long time and said 'you don't have to do it' and later on Robbie showed that he could come back.”

If most of the focus in Scottish football this weekend is on events in one half of Glasgow involving one of Laszlo's former teams, it will swiftly switch to the other side of the city, when another of his old clubs visit Celtic Park for a Europa League Group G match on Tuesday afternoon.

Laszlo was Ferencvaros manager when they knocked Hearts out of the UEFA Cup in December 2004 and he grew up on stories about the great Hungarian striker Florian Albert. There is no one of the class of the former Ballon d'Or winner in Ferencvaros green these days but Laszlo rhymes off a half dozen players whom he believes carry the biggest threat to Ange Postecoglou's strugglers on Tuesday night; he expects one in particular to show his class.

“Marko Marin, the former German international player, has made a big difference from last season. He has been the most valuable player for Ferencvaros. If you take Celtic they are not in fantastic shape. Ferencvaros are the favourites. Just because of the lack of confidence at Celtic. All their troubles come from inside, they don't have a proper sport director structure. The strong hand is not there. Also, they have a new coach [Postecoglou] who does not have knowledge of football in the Champions League or Europa League. At this level, if you make a comparison between Ferencvaros and Celtic, it is not about the quality of the players but the psychological aspect and it is in favour of Ferencvaros.”

He points to a wider issue in Scottish football and says the failure of clubs outwith Celtic and Rangers to progress in European competition is a problem that needs to be resolved and while he has been heartened by Scotland's progress in the qualifiers for World Cup 2022, he believes there is still work to be done at club level on closing the gap to the Old Firm – particularly when it comes to participation in European competition.

“There needs to be a team that breaks out and qualifies for the group stage. You see Aberdeen, St Johnstone, Hibernian, after the second round, they have a huge problem, they don't have any chance and now there is the third competition in Europe and teams like Flora in Estonia, or teams from Bosnia or Kosovo, are qualifying.”

“Aberdeen have spent a lot of money but this is not enough, you also need knowledge. If I have the money I can buy a Ferrari but I also need time to learn how to drive it. Very many people, rich people, get the Ferrari or the Porsche and on the way home they have an accident. You need to change a lot. It's about tactics, about knowledge, how you build up the game.”

It could be easy to dismiss Laszlo's words as those of an out-of-work coach sniping from the sidelines but the 57-year-old speaks with the authority of one who has coached on three continents including jobs in Hungary, Romania, Belgium, Scotland, Uganda, Lithuania and India but it is to his time in Germany that he turns.

“At Borussia Moenchengladbach, they are famous for their academy and producing good players. In my time there, the sport director was Christian Hochstatter and he would phone me after games to ask about the team – this was the B Juniors. He never asked about the results. The results for him were when he asked me 'how many can go to the first team?'

“Thomas Horster was a German national team player, Bayer Leverkusen captain, and later he trained the A Juniors from Leverkusen. He won the A German Bundesliga two times in a row and he was sacked, you know why? Because not one player in two years signed a professional contract. The club said 'yes, you won the league but this is not your destiny, this is not your duty. He was sacked and he was a legend of the club. That is the mentality, that is the process.”

“Tell me in the last 10 years, how many players have come out of Rangers academy who are of any value to the team or who have a value of E10m who can be sold on? Every young boy – and girl – in Scotland they choose to play football. It should be easy for Scotland to be like Portugal, to be the No.1 in football education. But you have to have the eye for the players and you have to give them the right education.”

The 57-year-old believes Scotland needs less Horster and more Hochstatter.

HeraldScotland: Laszlo during his time as Hearts bossLaszlo during his time as Hearts boss

“Scotland is still too obsessed with winning at a young age,” he says. “I stay in Meggetland and there is a football pitch there. I watch youth academies a lot in my spare time to see what they are working on. In training, they try to make ball possession [key], come the game everybody is playing long balls. Even the coach is shouting 'put the ball in the front, get it in behind, get the cross in'. In the training, they never do this!' The kids must be confused.

“What I want is to set up a football school and try to implement all of the things I know. Already I am searching for partners. I've worked on three different continents and in many different countries so I know what I am talking about. This is not just 'I have a dream'. I never dream with open eyes.”

“I'm passionate about this because Scotland is my home. Even if I get a manager's job I am very strong in my head to find partners in Scotland to help me, even if it was in collaboration with a club. It makes no difference to me which club, just one that is willing to take my advice and go in this direction.”