Three weeks on from being sacked by Rotherham United, Alan Stubbs is in typically philosophical and confident mood as he regroups in preparation for his next challenge.
Underlining the volatile nature of football management, the Liverpudlian suffered the ignominy of being discarded by the Yorkshire club less than five months after his greatest achievement in football.
The euphoria of his historic Scottish Cup triumph with Hibs and subsequently being headhunted by Rotherham has since given way to the harsh reality that, still more than a week shy of the six-month anniversary of that glory day in May, Stubbs is now out of work and looking for a way back in.
For all his disappointment at the way things have panned out since his Easter Road exit in June, however, the former Bolton Wanderers, Celtic and Everton defender is able to place his chastening experience with the English Championship minnows into context.
“The inevitable will always happen in football,” Stubbs told the Evening News in his first interview since losing his job at Rotherham. “You’re well warned that as a football manager you will get the sack at some point in your career. Look around the world and you’ll see plenty good managers who have been sacked shortly after doing a good job somewhere else. Look at Frank de Boer, for instance. He did a really good job at Ajax and then got sacked after 11 games with Inter Milan. I could go through a whole host of names – that’s just the crazy world of football management.
“The best in the business experience it. If it can happen to Jose Mourinho, it can happen to anyone. The culture in football right now is that it’s easy to make quick decisions over people’s futures. We know what we’re going into, and that’s why a lot of managers are crazy because we know what the environment is like. I didn’t want to get sacked so early obviously but whether it was right or wrong, people will always have different opinions.”
Certainly those of a Rotherham persuasion – local media and supporters alike – were fairly unanimous in their view that Stubbs had to go. His four-and-a-half-month tenure ended in mid-October with the Millers bottom of the Championship having taken just six points from their opening 13 league matches. The 45-year-old is not in a position to speak in detail about why he feels things went so wrong for him at the New York Stadium. However, he stands by the decision to swap Hibs for a crack at the English Championship when he did, and insists that the struggles of their last post won’t deter he and his assistants John Doolan and Andy Holden from returning to the game when the right opportunity arises.
Asked if he regretted the decision he made in June, at a time when he was being feted by the green-and-white half of Edinburgh for busting the most infamous jinx in Scottish football, Stubbs said: “I still think it was the right call at the time. After such a brilliant occasion, I don’t think it could have got any better. It was fantastic. It’s easy to talk about decisions in hindsight but what’s meant to be is meant to be. That’s life. What’s happened has happened but me and my staff will move on.
“We’ll get another opportunity and we’ll go again. It’s not dented my enthusiasm. If anything, it makes you stronger. It really does because all you want to do is get back in as quickly as possible and right the wrongs. It hasn’t affected my confidence at all. All it does is make you reflect on certain aspects. You look back at it and question everything, and look at where you might have made any mistakes which you can learn from. You just have to take it on the chin.
“The most important thing is that we’ve already had success in our career. We’ve not done an awful lot wrong. Things can work out differently at different clubs. Rotherham’s a club where a lot of managers have come and gone. It’s a tough job in terms of competing against the other teams in that league.”
Stubbs, who enjoyed a solid coaching grounding in the Everton academy before becoming Hibs’ head coach in 2014, knows that Rotherham will be viewed as a stain on his CV by many. He is hopeful, however, that any prospective employers will be willing to look at the bigger picture when assessing his credentials. “You try and build your CV as best you can, and the one thing you can’t take away from me is that I’m a Scottish Cup winner,” he said. “In two years at Hibs, we got to a League Cup final, a Scottish Cup semi-final and won the Scottish Cup. In the first year, we finished above a Rangers side with a vastly superior budget and got in the play-offs in the second year. When you look back, we didn’t do too bad at Hibs. The second job just didn’t materialise the way we wanted it. I’ve done well at one club and at another club, after 13 games..... I’m not going to say anything bad about the club – you draw a line under it and move on. I’d like to think people would be able to look at my overall body of work rather than just the last 13 games.”
After returning to Edinburgh for Hibs’ Scottish Cup DVD launch less than a week after losing his job at Rotherham, Stubbs took himself on holiday to reflect and recover mentally. He is now back in Liverpool, focused on the future and getting back into the game – but only when the right challenge materialises.
“I plan to relax, go and watch a bit of football, get to a few different clubs, watch some coaching and see how different managers go about their business to try and build up my knowledge,” he said. “Then it’s just a case of waiting for an opportunity to come. I’m open-minded about where I go next. I always have been in football.
“Me and my staff still fully believe in our ability and still feel that we can do a really good job. I’m really positive about the next job and what that could entail. If we feel it’s the right opportunity and an exciting project, then it’s something we’ll look to pursue, but it’s important that we don’t just jump into the first thing that comes along unless we’re sure it’s the right thing. Rotherham wasn’t necessarily the first thing that came along but that experience makes you really think about every aspect of what you’re going into. It will make us think even more carefully about the next one.”
• Alan Stubbs admits returning to Edinburgh for the recent launch of Hibs’ Scottish Cup DVD provided him with a timely pick-me-up just five days after being sacked by Rotherham United, writes ANTHONY BROWN.
The 45-year-old and his assistants John Doolan and Andy Holden were reunited with most of their history-making squad as they attended the movie premiere of Time For Heroes – a commemorative documentary reflecting on the famous cup run and subsequent celebrations – at Ocean Terminal last month. The former Easter Road head coach said: “It gave me a lift to come back up for the DVD launch. It was good to see the players and everybody else from the club again. It’s always nice to go back on such a positive wave of emotion, as in what the cup final brought.
“Whenever you’ve achieved something like that, there’s always going to be a feelgood factor about it. It was unfortunate what happened [at Rotherham] but just to come up and watch the DVD and see everybody, it was great. It reminds you what an achievement it was.”
Stubbs hailed the quality of Time For Heroes and believes it serves as a fitting memento of one of the most significant achievements in the club’s history. “I thought it was very impressive, I must say,” Stubbs said of the production. “It was very professionally done and it was personal because it gave a really good insight into the journey that it was. It was always going to sell well, but judging by the sales, it’s going down really well. The celebrations after the game and the day after summed up in a nutshell how momentous an occasion it was for the club. But the fact a DVD and so much more memorabilia has come on to the market since then just backs everything up for me about how great an achievement it was.
“From a fan’s point of view, the day itself and watching the game will be the main thing they remember, but the DVD is a hard copy to allow supporters to reminisce and go over the occasion as many times as they want.”
Stubbs enjoyed hearing the players offer insightful recollections and reflections of the cup triumph on the DVD. “Some of them will always like to be seen to be having a laugh and a joke, but deep down they are an intelligent group of players, and I thought even Jason [Cummings] came across well, which is saying something!” said Stubbs. “He’s got his own way and he’s a personality, but it’s good to see different perspectives from different people, how they saw things through their own eyes. Everybody will have different personal memories from the game, but the DVD gives a different outlook and shows supporters how we prepared, how we celebrated and the way we saw it.”