It’s a bizarre situation, possibly unique. While football clubs, their players and fans are no strangers to occasionally finding themselves in a state of limbo, waiting for a new manager to replace the one who has just departed, those involved with Hibs and Inverness Caledonian Thistle are embroiled in a game of “will he, won’t he.”
The “he,” of course, is Terry Butcher, current boss of the Highland outfit but shortly, if Hibs chairman Rod Petrie has his way, to become Pat Fenlon’s replacement at Easter Road.
And in one of those fickle instances which the footballing fates throw in just to add a little more intrigue to proceedings, the timing of the second Scottish Premiership clash of the season between the two clubs couldn’t have been better timed.
Caley are due in the Capital tomorrow when, we are told, Fenlon’s assistant Jimmy Nicholl will be in the home dugout regardless of the discussions which have taken place between Petrie and Butcher over the past couple of days.
Although negotiations appear to be dragging after Caley reluctantly granted Butcher permission to discuss his future with Hibs while underlining their determination to persuade him to stay at the Caledonian Stadium, events can move quickly and who is to say that by 3pm tomorrow the matter could well have drawn to a conclusion.
Just where Butcher might be no-one can say at the moment, the former Rangers and England captain believed to be considering what Petrie has had to offer while Caley’s chairman Kenny Cameron tabled a new deal, one which the 54-year-old has, as yet, not taken up, some time ago.
Until Butcher does make the move south as the Edinburgh club hope, Cameron, you would imagine will be perfectly entitled to expect his manager to be occupying the away dugout although the niceties might dictate that, just as Petrie wouldn’t demand he take charge of Hibs against his old side, he might be excused duty by Caley in this instance.
Speculation and gossip will be the order of the day until Butcher makes his intentions known, but there is little doubt that over the past 48 hours or so Hibs midfielder Owain Tudur Jones will have found his phone red-hot, the Welsh internationalist having made the same trip Butcher is now contemplating during the summer.
As The Who guitarist Pete Townshend once wrote in the song Won’t Get Fooled Again, it could well be a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” as he finds himself calling Butcher gaffer once again only a few months after saying his goodbyes.
No doubt Tudur Jones will have been grilled incessantly by his team-mates at their East Mains Training Centre on a daily basis, each and every one of them desperate to know what life might entail should Butcher become the latest to try the Easter Road hotseat for comfort.
And equally his old mates on the banks of the Moray Firth will be anxious to know what snippets of information Tudur Jones might have gleaned from the corridors of power at this end of the A9.
If truth be told, though, the players of both clubs will be as much in the dark as the rest of us, reliant on what they are reading in their daily newspapers for keeping them abreast of what is happening – or at least what is thought to be happening.
In reality, only Petrie, Butcher and Cameron – and to some extent Butcher’s backroom staff of Maurice Malpas and Steve Marsella – will have a proper insight, leaving the players, as distracted as they might be, to be as professional as they can in the circumstances and focus as best they can on the match itself.
“Everyone keeps asking me if I have heard anything,” said Hibs midfielder Scott Robertson. “Is there an inside scoop?
“But we have not heard anything. It’s between the chairman and the board to appoint the right man and I am sure they will. For me, it’s business as usual, looking forward to the game, concentrating and focusing on it.”
Nevertheless, Robertson and Co would be somewhat less than human if they were to let their attention wander, even ever so slightly.
A change of manager at any club always causes uncertainty, with players wondering if they will find favour with the new man or whether they might be declared surplus to requirements as he sets about bringing in fresh faces.
Of course, many of the current Hibs players, the vast majority of whom were brought to Easter Road by Fenlon, will have endured such times already in their careers, but for some of the younger ones it will be a new experience and no doubt an unsettling one with a good number of them having been given their first-team chance by the Irishman.
However, players often insist that once they cross that while line the trials and tribulations, whatever might be worrying them in their lives, disappear as they give their full focus to the 90 minutes ahead and, after three straight defeats, by Aberdeen, Hearts and Motherwell, Robertson agreed Hibs cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves.
He said: “Three results in a week. If they are three wins in a week everyone is on a high. The gaffer [Fenlon] could still possibly be in a job, but the way things have turned out, it’s three defeats and the manager has left and we are in the position we are in.
“I was disappointed to see the gaffer go. He brought me to the club, I was really happy working with him and I feel I have improved since I joined the club, so I was really sorry to see him go.”
While admitting Hibs were well below par against Aberdeen, Robertson insisted that, with a touch of luck and more clinical finishing, it could have been a different story against both Hearts and Motherwell. He said: “We have not been ruthless enough and punishing teams like they are punishing us.
“Against Motherwell, we dominated large parts of the game, but we did not take our chances again and when you are also not able to keep a clean sheet at the same time then that’s a bad combination.
“We also haven’t had too much luck. We hit the post and the bar against Hearts and when Jamie MacDonald got his hand to my shot in that game I still thought it was going in. I was pretty devastated it was not the opening goal. Had it been, it would have been a totally different story I am sure.
“Against Aberdeen we let ourselves down a bit but in the other two we created chances, have not taken them and we are suffering.”