Thursday, October 07, 2010

Hibs Still Searching

What madness have I returned to?

With a shiny, completed ground and a financial position that the board enjoy describing as “healthy” all should be rosy in the Easter Road garden.

Unfortunately football is still about finding a manager and a squad of players who can deliver something on the pitch.

And that, recently, has been Hibs’ failing. That John Hughes had to go was of little surprise. He will, with his normal “character,” defend his record. Europe for the first time in five years, fourth place in the league. Fair enough. But the harsh reality was that Hughes’ Hibs team wasn’t good enough, that it may even have been less than the sum of its parts. And for that the buck stops with the manager.

I’m told Hughes is blaming the media for “interpreting” recent results to fit their argument.

OK. But how much spin does it take from even a third rate scribe to turn one win out of ten in the SPL and European and League Cup exits into a damning indictment of Hibs current form? Or how about the worst run of home results since the club was founded in 1875?

Hughes was fond of saying that “football” people understood what he was trying to do. Well, football people and non-football people can surely agree that the manager was going to come under pressure with such a paltry return on what, for Hibs’ famously reticent board, has been a reasonable investment in the playing squad.

I’d actually take Doc Brown’s DeLorean back to the start of last season to pinpoint the problem of the Hughes reign. I’d return to a stage of the season that came before that now almost unbelievable period when people were breathlessly hailing Hughes as the man to split the Old Firm.

In the fourth game of last season Hibs lost 2-0 at Hamilton in a performance as insipid as it was disjointed. It was to be a recurring theme. If the big players didn’t click then Hibs seemed powerless to do anything in the face of well organised opponents. There was no Plan B because, and this gnawed away even during the long unbeaten run last season, there was no Plan A. The seeds of this season’s discontent were sown last year. In focusing only on the final league position Hughes chooses not to acknowledge that.

That, of course, fits in with the pattern established in his last season at Falkirk when a cup final and a last gasp escape were constantly used to defend his record without ever facing up to the problems that had pushed his team into a lengthy relegation battle.

Given his reputation as a hard man – a reputation apparently well earned – his lack of control in the dressing room also seemed odd. But discipline does seem to have been an issue and man management problems seem to have been constantly rumoured. Having been on the receiving end of a couple of Yogi’s motivational speeches I can vouch for both their length and the essential lack of substance at their heart, like a call to arms delivered by the worst sort of New Labour apparatchik. Did the players simply stop listening?

All of which is a shame because Hughes is a decent bloke with Hibs and Leith in his heart and he shared a bond with the fans. Unfortunately, and many other former players will vouch for this, having the best of intentions and loving a club is not enough to make a success of it in the dugout.

The final verdict has to be that for the majority of his 15 months in charge this son of Leith was unable to deliver any sunshine.

Where, then, do the board turn now?

For a club that likes to consider itself “stable” Hibs have been anything but of late. There has been a constant turnover of managers and a lack of any cohesion that belies the success of the youth development staff but is borne out by a decade that has, in truth, been only intermittently inspiring.

In fact the one constant has been Rod Petrie, a man hailed for his shrewd financial guidance but who has a poor track record in identifying coaches with whom he can forge long term working relationships. The admission by Jim Duffy that he taught Petrie all he knows should not, perhaps, be much of a surprise given the mess that Duffy himself made of the manager’s job.

But with financial stability, a reasonable squad and an open race for third place there is likely to be no shortage of contenders for Petrie to choose from.

Some of the names we’ve already seen linked include: Paul Hart, Steve Clarke, Jimmy Calderwood, Billy Reid, Ian McParland, Uwe Rapolder, Gus McPherson, Derek Adams, Derek McInnes, Steve Constantine, Tony Mowbray, Mark Venus, Michael O’Neil, Pat Fenlon, Craig Brown, Sir Bobby Charlton and Colin Montgomerie.

I’ve made a couple of those names up. And I’m not going to back anyone.

Why? Because Rod Petrie would have made a damned good operator in the political machinations of the Kremlin. He gives nothing away and doesn’t feel why he should. If he was running any other business he wouldn’t discuss personnel issues with his customers and he sees fans as no different.

Thus the more names he sees linked the better, the stronger the cover for the cloak and dagger operation that will see the new man eventually emerge.

All I’ll say is rule out anyone you see as an obvious candidate. John Hughes was the obvious candidate and also the wrong one. Expect Petrie to return to the method that saw him unearth Tony Mowbray from the Ipswich coaching staff.

For all his failings – and balancing balance sheets aside he has many – Rod Petrie enjoys springing surprises more than you’d expect from a man of his dull countenance. Expect him to do so again in the next week or two.