THERE is a kinship between Craig Levein and Neil Lennon which stretches far beyond the odd bit of give and take after an Edinburgh derby. It is put to the Hearts manager as the hours tick down to Hampden on Saturday that the men in both technical areas have devoted a huge chunk of their lives, as player, manager and sometime figurehead, to these respective clubs – yet aren’t always universally appreciated by their supporters. “What do you MEAN?” the 54-year-old says with mock indignation.

No, the analysis is fair enough: Hearts is in Levein’s blood, just as Celtic is part of Lennon’s DNA. So if Saturday’s showpiece is a red-letter day for Lennon and his efforts to reclaim the Celtic manager’s job that was once his, you can magnify that when it comes to his opposite number. Lennon might be hoping to bring home his first treble as manager (he played a key role in claiming a clean sweep as a player in 2000-01) and a historic triple treble. But Levein’s target is simpler. “Well, we’ve got a single single to go for, eh?” he jokes.

“I get on well with him,” added Levein of his cup final day rival, perhaps a little stung by some of the brickbats which have his way in recent times. “I think he’s a decent fella. We’re all striving for the same thing so there’s an element within us all that we have some empathy for other people in the same job. It’s not easy to bear the weight of expectation for the fanbase, players, directors, everybody. I admire anybody who has had the bottle to do it and particularly at the level Neil has been at.”

Managers are loathe to frame a team game like football in terms of their individual goals but it really is a “single single” which Levein craves. It still seems remarkable when you consider a career at the sharp end of his sport which stretches nearly 40 years that he is yet to celebrate lifting a solitary piece of major silverware.

He came damn close at times, mind you. There was the 1986 season, where a flu bug sidelined him for Hearts’ doomed title party in Dundee. Two second half goals from Albert Kidd meant that all the celebrations were at Love Street, where Celtic were routing St Mirren to nick the championship crown. Levein and co had hardly picked themselves off the canvas by the time Sir Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen were swatting them aside in the Scottish Cup final. He retired due to injury in 1997, 12 months too early to play a part in the club’s 1998 Scottish Cup final win against Rangers.

His luck hasn’t been any better since becoming a manager. It took an 85th minute pass back from Mark Kerr, latched onto by Kris Boyd, to cost his Dundee United a 1-0 lead and ultimately the 2008 league cup final. Although Kenny Clark failing to see a clear Carlos Cuellar penalty on Christian Kalvenes which could have made it 2-0 with minutes to play didn’t help either. He finally left for the Scotland job in December 2009, six months this time before his assistant would lead his players to Scottish Cup success against Ross County. He was an outside observer, albeit a delighted one, for all Hearts’ cup winning exploits in this competition.

No wonder Levein, a man who could quite easily have called time on his management days in the wake of his heart complaint last August, would love it to be his day on Saturday. Lord knows he will have waited long enough for it.

“It’s a huge thing,” he said. “You play football and you become involved in the game afterwards in order to have moments like this. I’ve come close a few times in the past but this is another great opportunity. It’s kept the season going for us. I’m excited and I can sense that the players are as well.”

“That seems like such a long time ago, almost like it was a different person and different lifetime,” he added. “I did [miss that match], yeah. And they couldn’t even get over the line without me! I struggle to remember what I was thinking [when that ’86 final came round]. It was all a bit of a whirlwind. You just think that’s what happens. You go to Hearts, play in Europe and then challenge for the league. Little did I know …

“It’s slightly different in a managerial sense. You carry a lot of weight for everybody to take pressure off the players. You’re doing your best for people in the boardroom who have high expectations and the supporters. Our supporters will be expecting to win. It’s my job to try and get that expectation over the line.

“That [the Kerr back pass in 2008] was unfortunate. I don’t have any problem saying things will need to go our way in this game to give us the best chance of winning. That will mean we have to make few mistakes or no mistakes, that would be excellent. You can’t control everything. As much as we need to play really well, I think we will need other things to go in our favour.”

The logic has mocked him in the past, but Levein still sticks to it - put yourself in position often enough and your luck will finally turn. That is why he purrs about the job done by Derek McInnes at Aberdeen and still dreams of emulating it. “That’s not easy, particularly nowadays when there is this constant churn of players,” he says,

The interview concludes with a couple of pieces of arch Levein wisdom, first brushing off an enquiry about the length of the Hampden grass [“the grass will be good I’m sure”] then downplaying the importance of scoring the first goal. “I’m confident that if we score more, we’ll be okay,” he says.