He is living proof of the adage you should never go back. There’s no way he should still be in charge next season.
No, not Craig Levein, although these criticisms chime with his current situation. The under-fire Hearts manager has been joined in the stocks by Neil Lennon, whose return to Celtic has not proved completely straightforward. Both men face significant tests this weekend that could impact heavily on whether they stay in their current positions.
They must ensure the favourites tag attached to their teams is vindicated when Lennon’s Celtic face Aberdeen on Sunday and Levein’s Hearts side tackle Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the first Scottish Cup semi-final a day earlier. Failure is not an option.
Even success might not be enough to quell the fans’ grumbles. In Lennon’s case they are not as audible as those experienced by Levein, who was forced to endure a blast of booing when the final whistle sounded after Saturday’s 2-1 defeat against Hibs.
There was some dissatisfaction in the air at Celtic Park a few hours later when Celtic were held 0-0 by Livingston but it was hard to be too critical when the gap between the league leaders and Rangers had stretched to 14 points.
Nevertheless, this result is the latest performance being used to damn Lennon. I say performance because, results-wise, Celtic have hardly missed a beat since Brendan Rodgers left and the handily-available Lennon took over on an interim basis. They have dropped just four points since due to two hardly ruinous 0-0 draws against Aberdeen and Livingston.
For some, however, the most recent of these is irrefutable proof that Lennon’s current status should on no account be upgraded to permanent. He almost certainly won’t be promoted if Celtic lose their next match.
Lennon survived a defeat at the same stage of the same competition while in similarly vulnerable position. He was caretaker manager when his Celtic fell to Ross County, from the tier below, in 2010. But this defeat, unimaginable now, did not prove fatal to his own ambitions of becoming permanent manager, possibly because it was accepted he was being forced to pick up the pieces following Tony Mowbray’s reign.
It was, also, his only loss, as startling though it was. Lennon’s league record was immaculate: eight straight wins.
He was permitted the Ross County debacle and became permanent manager shortly after the season ended. That’s when he promised to bring “the thunder” back to Parkhead. Few could claim he was not successful. He reached the group stage of the Champions League twice, claimed victory over Barcelona and won the league three times, including a double in 2012-13.
Lennon has been asked to return in the first instance to help Celtic over the line in their pursuit of an eighth successive title. He’ll do that with plenty room to spare. But there was also the hope, possibly expectation, he would prove inspirational enough to land a triple treble with style and verve.
He picked the team most wanted to see on Saturday. Tom Rogic returned and Odsonne Edouard started, as did Ryan Christie. He even backtracked on a mooted plan to “shut down” Kieran Tierney.
Lennon’s justifiable complaint is that he’s not had time to put his stamp on the team. He’s merely the caretaker, a safe pair of hands with a precious knowledge of what it takes to be manager of Celtic.
It’s difficult to make a discernible difference to a side already on a run of nine successive domestic victories, as Celtic were when Rodgers left. That’s the trouble for Lennon. Unless he claims the treble, he has a hard job convincing majority shareholder Dermot Desmond and others he’s the man to take the club forward. Even then, there will be plenty of sceptics.
Strangely, Lennon’s case threatens to be further undermined by Paul Heckingbottom’s success with Hibs; his inability to inspire the same set of players towards the end of his Easter Road tenure is a charge easy to lay at the then manager’s door.
Lennon’s Celtic of course defeated Hibs in the Scottish Cup. But this won’t count for much if Aberdeen eliminate the holders from the same competition in a few days’ time.