CRAIG Levein has backed Pat Fenlon to survive his latest spell of crisis management at Hibernian and revealed the details of his part in the Dubliner’s appointment by the Easter Road club two years ago.
Former Hearts and Scotland manager Levein was at Hampden yesterday to make the League Cup semi-final draw, with Hibs’ absence from the hat having put fresh pressure on Fenlon.
Wednesday night’s 1-0 home Edinburgh derby defeat to Gary Locke’s administration-weakened Hearts team in the quarter-finals prompted a protest by angry Hibs supporters outside Easter Road.
Fenlon, whose position also came intense scrutiny at the start of the season when Hibs suffered a record 9-0 aggregate defeat to Malmo in Europa League qualifying and lost to Hearts at Tynecastle in the first league derby of the campaign, remained defiant after the match.
The former Shelbourne and Bohemians boss had his credentials for the Hibs job endorsed by Levein prior to his appointment in November 2011. Levein had also backed Dundee United’s move to make Fenlon his successor at Tannadice the previous year, only for that to fall through when the clubs failed to agree compensation terms.
“Someone at Hibs phoned me and asked about him,” said Levein. “I’d met Pat a few times through a friend of mine in Ireland. Pat did a great job in Ireland. I certainly recommended him as a character, although I hadn’t worked with him.
“It was straightforward. Someone at Hibs asked me about Pat and I can recommend his character. I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball and can say what is going to happen with someone as manager. What you can do is look at their past record and he was exceptionally successful wherever he had been in Ireland.
“I think he is a decent person. He is certainly a really hard-working guy.
“I feel for him right now. All of us who have managed understand what it’s like to go through a tough time. Pat had a tough period early on in the season and battled on and got through that. Knowing the type of character he is, he will do the same again.
“If that defeat on Wednesday had not been against Hearts, it wouldn’t have been quite as sore. The fact that Hearts were weakened by a lot of other things probably made Hibs the strongest favourites they have been for a while. That builds the expectation levels for Hibs fans. But he is a strong character and he’ll battle through it.
“Everyone in management knows that, when things are going well, the manager is the one who gets the praise. But, when things are going poorly, you carry the can for it. A lot of times, circumstances are such that you can look at mitigating reasons for it. But a lot of times people don’t look into it as deeply as that. Results dictate how it goes.
“Everything is a gamble when you appoint the manager and the important thing is to look into the background and the statistics to make the best judgement that you can.
“I’ve heard some of the Hibs fans were shouting for him to go. Football has changed a bit in the sense that a lot of the clubs are not run by what I would consider to be football people. But the ones who are football people tend to be more tolerant because they recognise that things can happen that are outwith the manager’s control.”
Levein is adamant Hibs would be best served by keeping faith with Fenlon and insists finding a successor would be problematic in a Scottish football environment he says is increasingly unattractive to high-level managers.
“I think everybody needs to take a deep breath and let the guy get on with the job,” added Levein.
“Hibs are in a reasonable position just now. I think they will be a top-six team, which I know you could argue is expected but they haven’t always been in the top six.
“With all due respect, in Scotland we are not getting the best managers in Britain because everything has got a tier and the idea is you keep moving up. Financially, they are not the best jobs here and it’s not in England, where you are the centre of attention. So I believe if you make the choice to bring a manager in, give him time to get things right.
“It will get to a time, and I think this is starting to happen in Scotland now, that clubs realise whenever you sack a manager you’ve then got all the debris that goes with it.
“You’ve got to pay off that manager, sign a new one and then get rid of the players the new guy doesn’t want. All that takes a period of time to work through so I think it’s better to do as much diligence as you can to make sure you’ve got the right guy – and then give him time. Otherwise you are ultimately costing yourself a lot of money.
“The good thing I’ve seen in the Scottish Premiership this season is that the owners of the football clubs have had the balls to stand fast and not be trigger happy.”
Levein, meanwhile, was fulsome in his praise of Gary Locke’s work at Hearts since the club’s financial collapse.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, Gary has the hardest job in management this season,” said Levein. “He has a team full of kids who, without any disrespect to them, are only in the team because there is nobody else.
“As a manager, one of the biggest motivational tools you have is the threat of a player being dropped if he’s not playing well. But, at Hearts just now, even if someone is playing crap, they will still play the next week and the week after that.
“Some of the best managers in the world would struggle under those conditions, so for a young guy like Gary to deal with it is incredible and it would be a remarkable achievement if he could take them to a cup final.”