If he takes on the Hibs job, Terry Butcher’s main task will effectively be to disprove the theory that being manager of the Easter Road club is the most poisoned chalice in Scottish football.
At first glance, it looks one of the most alluring gigs in the country, given the club’s off-field stability, infrastructure and fanbase. Yet, since 2001, Franck Sauzee, Bobby Williamson, John Collins, Mixu Paatelainen, John Hughes, Colin Calderwood and Pat Fenlon have all arrived with decent CVs or at least looked like they had potential to carve a career in management, only to find their stock nosedive in Leith.
Some, like Paatelainen, have recovered, while others, like Sauzee, Collins and Hughes, have toiled to resurrect their managerial careers. With hindsight, perhaps Sauzee and Calderwood have been the only outright failures in the Easter Road hotseat. Equally, none of those, including League Cup winner Collins, have been deemed an undisputed success.
In this 12-year period, only Tony Mowbray has left Easter Road with his reputation enhanced. So what did the Englishman achieve that none of the others managed? In his two full seasons in charge, he guided Hibs to highly-respectable third and fourth-place finishes, the sort of attainment that perhaps only Craig Levein and Jimmy Calderwood had managed in recent times at the country’s supposed bigger club’s.
However, the praise Mowbray received for his work at Hibs seems unproportionally high when compared with the levels of scorn to which Hughes was subjected by some, despite steering Hibs to fourth place in his only full season at the tiller. Although Mowbray won three of his ten derbies in charge, he also lost 4-0, 4-1 and 4-0 to Hearts in the one season. And – unlike Fenlon – he lost back-to-back Scottish Cup semi-finals, one of which was to Hearts, by the same margin as the 2012 final – a game the Irishman was never forgiven for. Of course, the main factor that separates Mowbray from his immediate predecessors and successors is that he oversaw some mesmerising, free-flowing football which brought memorable results like the 3-0 wins over Rangers at Ibrox and the 7-0 demolition of Livingston. Under every other manager, the fare on offer has been relatively stale.
Yet, Mowbray was operating with a squad which was on a totally different level to anything any of the others have had at their disposal. The Englishman inherited arguably the best crop of youngsters to come through at any club in Scotland in the last 20 years. Ian Murray, Garry O’Connor, Derek Riordan, Kevin Thomson, Steven Whittaker and Scott Brown had already been given a first-team grounding by Williamson and have since proved how good they were by virtue of the level of clubs they moved to upon leaving Easter Road.
In short, Mowbray’s team were an exception in modern-day Hibs terms. Williamson, Paatelainen, Hughes and Fenlon, were closer to what has become the norm at Easter Road over the last 30 years or so. As the likes of Leeds United and Nottingham Forest are also finding, the days of traditional bigger clubs routinely occupying the top places are long gone.
In the same way that Scotland have suffering due to the improvement of so many other nations, the likes of Hibs, Hearts, Aberdeen and Dundee United have had to contend with the rise of well-run smaller clubs like St Johnstone, Ross County and Inverness, whose players are able to play with less pressure than those at the so-called bigger clubs.
For example, if the Perth side are losing 1-0 at home to Hearts, they will not find 12,000 of their own fans loudly jeering them with half an hour to go, as the Hibs players had to deal with last week. David Wotherspoon and Rowan Vine are just two examples of players who have looked more comfortable at a smaller club like Saints than at Hibs.
There will be those who argue players who can’t handle such flak shouldn’t be at the club, but Hibs are not in a position to sign established top-order players who can shut out such pressures. For all that Hibs and Aberdeen may have bigger budgets than the smaller clubs, they are not exactly shopping in a different market.
For example, Motherwell, widely deemed a smaller club, were able to bring in John Sutton, Stephen McManus and James McFadden. Even St Mirren can bring in Marian Kello, Danny Grainger, Steven Thompson and Gary Teale. These players are not significantly inferior to the likes of Paul Heffernan, Liam Craig and Kevin Thomson, whom Fenlon’s army of critics felt should have had Hibs far higher up the league than seventh.
If precedent is anything to go by, in order to be deemed a success at Easter Road, the new manager effectively has to turn Hibs into perennial top-four finishers while playing easy-on-the-eye football. Mogga’s reign, it seems, remains the benchmark. No pressure, Terry.