Hibs not only club contesting the sack race

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Hibs have earned themselves the reputation of being quick on the trigger, hiring and firing managers at a rate uneqalled by any other club in Scotland.

Today the Easter Road club continues to search for a new manager, their ninth since the beginning of the new Millenium – or it’s fifth in four years – depending on which starting point you prefer.

In that time supporters have seen Alex McLeish, Franck Sauzee, Bobby Williamson, Tony Mowbray, John Collins, Mixu Paatelainen, John Hughes and, now, Colin Calderwood come and go while the likes of Donald Park, Mark Proctor and, currently, Billy Brown, have all taken the reins on a caretaker basis.

Chairman Rod Petrie and his fellow directors would probably be the first to admit they wished it was otherwise, insisting they’d far rather have seen the longevity of those appointed as manager far exceed the 18 months, or less which the more recent incumbents have enjoyed. However, while it is far from a record to be proud of, Hibs don’t stand alone with, astonishingly, the SPL’s current 12 members having employed, including current bosses, a grand total of 75 managers during the period in question.

It will come as little surprise, given the upheaval which has taken place at Tynecastle since Vladimir Romanov took the controls to learn that Hearts are out on their own in the “Sacking League” with 12 different managers, nine of them (including Jim Jefferies’ second spell) since the Lithuanian-based business man became embroiled in Gorgie in early 2005. At present both Dundee United and Motherwell are on their eighth manager of the 21st century while Craig Brown is the seventh to be employed by Aberdeen.

Neil Lennon, Terry Butcher and Steve Lomas are the sixth at Celtic, Inverness Caley and St Johnstone respectively while the fact Jefferies spent eight years at the helm of Kilmarnock probably accounts for the fact they’ve had “only” five bosses in that time, the same number as Dunfermline where Jimmy Calderwood enjoyed a tenure of five years.

McLeish had more than four years at Ibrox subsequent to his time in the Capital, which, allied to Walter Smith’s second spell in Govan amounting to more than four more, has seen the smallest turnover in managers at Rangers – a figure matched by St Mirren where Gus MacPherson was in charge for seven years.

Lengthy spells in the managerial hotseat enjoyed by MacPherson, Jefferies, Jimmy Calderwood, McLeish and Smith, however, are the exception rather than the rule with others, most notably Sauzee, Burley, Eduard Malofeev (Hearts) and Paul Le Guen (Rangers) hardly managing to get their feet under the table before they were gone.

As such, Peter Houston, less than two years in charge at Dundee United, can now boast to being the longest-serving manager in the SPL. And that, according to Alex Smith, chairman of the Scottish Managers and Coaches Association, tells a story all of its own.

Smith, himself a veteran of bossing Stenhousemuir, Stirling Albion, St Mirren, Aberdeen, Clyde, Dundee United and Ross County and currently director of football at Falkirk, believes the managerial merry-go-round is one reason why the Scottish game is struggling at present.

Instead of being given the necessary time, claimed Smith, the speed with which clubs dispense with the services of their managers creates an instability as each new appointee struggles to make his mark before being shown the door, leaving the whole sorry process to begin all over again.

He said: “The time managers are given nowadays is ridiculously small, expectation levels are so great and patience so little.

“You can’t really blame supporters for that, everyone wants the best for their clubs but you have to realise every manager needs time to change a club around. Changing every 18 months or two years, what chance is there for stability? Every manager has different ways of working, different ways of doing things and needs time to stamp his ideas on a club.”

Football, of course, is a results-driven business as Smith fully accepts, well aware of the fickleness of fans having himself been sacked by Aberdeen only months after taking the Dons to within half-an-hour of the League title and having led the Pittodrie club to Scottish and League Cup triumphs.

The glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson continue to hang heavily over the Granite City, even to this day, but Smith is right when he muses that Dons fans would jump at the chance to enjoy the sort of success he brought to the club, joking: “I’d have Union Street to myself.”

Fans’ expectations, however, often bear little resemblance to reality, most of today’s supporters, like those of Aberdeen, seeking a return to the glory days of the past in a scene which is now dominated by Rangers and Celtic. Unlike bygone days, however, supporters have plenty of platforms through which they can make their dissenting voices heard – radio chat shows, internet message boards, and so on, helping heap the pressure on chairmen and their fellow directors when things are not going well.

And in such circumstances, Smith insists, the manager becomes the fall guy.

He said: “I’m not saying there are managers who do not deserve to be sacked but you see it all the time, a new boss comes in, wins the first two or three games and he’s the greatest manager ever.

“There’s a breath of fresh air, the players respond because they have the opportunity to prove themselves and then it all settles down into the old routine once they have the confidence of the new manager. Then within a few months everyone starts shouting again about bringing a new manager in.

“The first sign of a lack of success and the fans are in the media and on the radio, players and chairmen listen to the radio.

“As long as it’s the manager getting it then it’s all right, but the first sign of pressure coming on the board then it’s get rid of the manager and the cycle just goes on.”

Hiring and firing managers can also prove a costly business, compensation invariably being paid as the new man is enticed from one club to another and then a pay-off being made when he’s deemed to have failed and seen his contract cut short.

Smith, however, pointed to other costs, each new arrival seeking to stamp his own authority on his squad by hiring new players and discarding those brought in by his predecessors with, again, the risk of money being squandered on both fronts.

And, he insisted, there was also a hidden price to be paid saying: “There is always some kid becoming an accident waiting to happen.

“He’s perhaps doing well under the present manager then a new one comes in, doesn’t want him and he’s bombed out.”

Not all managers, of course, are sacked, a number move on to what they see as bigger and better jobs with McLeish leaving Hibs for Rangers and Tony Mowbray arriving at Celtic via West Bromwich Albion while Craig Levein departed Tannadice for Hampden. Added to that is the fact Hibs can boast that three of those who left Easter Road in recent years have gone on to manage at international level, McLeish with Scotland, Bobby Williamson with Uganda and Mixu Paatelainen with Finland.

However, Smith believes managers should be given the assurance of a minimum period in charge when joining a new club.

“As a league managers’ organisation we have suggested to the SFA to do the contracts and insist the manager gets at least 24 months.

“No disrespect at all to Peter Houston but the fact he is the longest serving manager in the SPL but hasn’t been in charge two years yet tells you everything.”