Alan Stubbs just happened to be in Glasgow the day Hibs came calling – the only problem was that Easter Road chief executive Leeann Dempster was more than 200 miles away in Manchester.
Dempster and the Edinburgh club’s head of operations, George Craig, were in the north west of England continuing their search for sacked Terry Butcher’s replacement and with Stubbs, one of more than 70 applicants for the vacancy, living on nearby Merseyside, it appeared a convenient meeting place.
Stubbs, however, had given his word he’d be in Scotland to fulfil a commitment to the children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent and, although he was desperate to make the Hibs job his first in football management, he wasn’t going to break his promise.
However, so determined was he to put his case, the minute he was free he jumped into his car, headed down the M6 and, in a late-night meeting, convinced Dempster and Craig that his was the name which should be put to the Easter Road board.
As he settled into the club’s impressive East Mains training centre today, the 42-year-old admitted it was a day to remember.
He said: “It was strange how it worked out. I’m sure they were in Manchester to speak to one or two other people and happened to be down there while I was in Glasgow.
“I was doing a charity thing for CLIC Sargent. I’d committed to them and, when I give someone my word, I keep it.
“I told Leeann I could meet them later on if they wanted so I finished in Glasgow for six, headed straight down to Manchester and was there for sometime after nine.”
In a two-and-a-half hour interview, Dempster, Craig and Stubbs discovered they were all singing from the same hymn sheet when it came to how they envisaged taking a club devastated by an unexpected relegation back to where it belongs within Scottish football.
Stubbs said: “It proved to be a long day. I’d left my home in Formby at five in the morning and didn’t get back until after midnight but I’m glad to be sitting here today saying it was worthwhile.”
Having maintained a long-held ambition to strike out as a manager in his own right, Stubbs revealed previous opportunities had come and gone, other clubs, like Hibs, attracted by the impressive work he had done as Everton’s Under-21 coach in guiding youngsters such as Ross Barkley, John Stones and Luke Garbutt into manager Roberto Martinez’s Premiership side. So, why then, would an aspiring young manager plump for Hibs at this particular time?
He said: “There were other opportunities. One was an assistant manager at a big club in the Championship in England, another in League One and one in League Two. But I didn’t feel at the time they were right or it was the right time.
“I spoke to Roberto about the assistant one and he said he did not think it was the right thing for me, that I was a No.1, a manager. I think he enforced my opinion that I was right and that’s when I decided to wait.
“When you see what Leeann has got as a project going forward, I think it is exciting and, shared with my beliefs, I think this could be the making of something really good. Leeann is looking to put in a structure that is maybe going to stop what happened happening in the future. It’s a different approach being head coach, more of a European element, but I am still going to be manager with the title of head coach. It’s going to be a challenge not just for me, but us all, because we want to put this club back where it belongs.”
Stubbs, naturally, is well aware of the rapid turnover in managers at Easter Road, the former Bolton, Celtic, Everton and Sunderland defender having become the seventh to occupy the hotseat in just eight years. But, he insisted, that record doesn’t concern him in the slightest.
He said: “I did not have to leave Everton. I had a good job, well paid, and it was very satisfying what I was doing working with some of the best talent we have in English football.
“It would have been very easy for me to stay there, but I have come to the point where I needed a new challenge. I always knew I was going to step into management. It’s all very well talking about managers and turnover – but it’s a fantastic opportunity to get it right and, if and when, we get it right the potential is huge.”
Stubbs admitted he will have to move quickly with only 15 first-team players having reported back for pre-season training following the cull of 14 men conducted by Butcher in the wake of that play-off defeat by Hamilton, with his depleted squad bereft of goalkeepers.
Already, he claimed, he has had more than 100 calls from agents anxious to put names to him but, he stressed, he won’t be panicked into making signings simply to boost numbers.
He said: “I see it in a positve way as more often than not when you come into a club as a manager you have to get rid of ten or 12 players straight away, whereas I’m not necessarily in that position.
“There may be one or two who go out, but there’s going to be a lot more coming in and they are going to be my decision, my appointments. We need to move quickly, we don’t want to be in the situation where a week before the start of the season we don’t have in what we want. But those are discussions for me, Leeann and George to have. Having so many agents call is good in a way, but I have to be careful they are not just players thrown at me. We won’t bring in people who are not good enough to play for Hibs and to just fill a gap.
“That’s not good enough, they have to be in here fighting for a place. I want to build a squad. I want competition for places and a team worthy of playing for Hibs.”
Stubbs admitted he’d be foolish not to make maximum use of his contacts down south while also being able to fall back on what he has learned from working both as a player and coach with managers such as Martinez, David Moyes, Bruce Rioch, Tommy Burns and Martin O’Neill.
Revealing he has already had a call from Kenny Dalglish saying he will be at the other end of the phone if needed, Stubbs insisted, though, that he is determined Hibs will be seen as “Alan Stubbs’ team”. He said: “I’ve worked under some fantastic managers and been very lucky in that I’ve been able to learn off a lot of them but you are going to see Alan Stubbs’ style of management. It’s important I stamp my identity on the team. I’m fortunate enough to have good relationships with a lot of good people and I won’t be so naive as to not pick up the phone and ask an opinion.
“I was learning till 37 as a player and this is the start of another journey and I’ll learn all the way through.”
Untried he might be, but Stubbs insisted he doesn’t regard himself as a rookie manager. He said: “People can state that, but I don’t see myself as a rookie at all. This is my first challenge and it’s one I’m ready for.
“I didn’t take the decision lightly but you know yourself when you are ready in whatever you want to do in life.
“I’m not sitting here thinking I could have done with another two years. I know I’m ready. I had discussions with Leeann all the way and sometimes you can say the right things and not deliver. It’s important for me that I say the right things and deliver and the fact Leeann has given me this opportunity means she has seen something in me that chimes with the beliefs she has about the way to take this club forward.”