FANS’ favourite Derek Riordan believes that whoever becomes the next Hibs manager will somehow have to find a way of restoring spirit, style and cutting edge to the team in order to bring some much-needed life back to Easter Road.
Chief executive Leeann Dempster is currently leading the search for the man to revive the Hibees for their Championship promotion push after years of loitering in the lower reaches of the top flight culminated in relegation under Terry Butcher, who was sacked on Tuesday.
The demise hasn’t come as a great surprise to former Easter Road striker Riordan, who has spoken out previously about the steady deterioration of his boyhood team. The 31-year-old believes drastic action is needed this summer in order to ensure that Hibs are in a position to compete for promotion from the Championship and give their long-suffering fans something to shout about again after the grim toils of recent years.
“Hibs fans have not been happy for a wee while now,” said Riordan, whose second spell with the club ended three years ago. “There looks to be a lack of spirit about the place these days. There was always a bit of a backbone to Hibs with guys like myself and Ian Murray and other guys about the place who know what playing for the club is about, but they’ve not really seemed to have had that in the last few years. When I was leaving, I could see the team was getting worse. Everybody could see it happening and it’s eventually happened, they’ve gone down.
“Even before this season, Leigh Griffiths was basically saving Pat Fenlon’s team for a good bit. It was Griffiths’ goals that were winning games for them, but the football was absolutely dire. I’ve got mates who’ve got fed up with it and stopped going to watch Hibs.”
The current situation is all a far cry from the days when Riordan and an array of talented young team-mates mesmerised the Hibs faithful under the guidance of Tony Mowbray, who became manager at Easter Road a decade ago. Riordan knows it is unrealistic to expect Hibs to produce another batch of talent like they did back then, but he is alarmed at how the club has been allowed to go from being one of the most admired in the country to one of the most ridiculed.
“It was brilliant under Mowbray, but I think anyone will tell you, you’ll not get another crop of good young players like that coming through together for a long time,” he said. “We were lucky to have that. We were filling the stadium out most weeks – the fans loved it. Mowbray did brilliantly for us. The style of football was brilliant and everybody enjoyed the training, but we’ve not had that type of football for years.
“John Hughes had us playing good football as well – I enjoyed it under big Yogi. The last half-decent team we had was the one under him [in 2009], with myself, Stokesy [Anthony Stokes] and Liam Miller in the team, but after a few of them left, the squad just got a lot worse from then.”
After relegation, the emptying of 15 players and the sacking of Butcher, the rebuilding process starts now. Riordan believes that, unless there is another batch of exceptional youngsters waiting to emerge from the academy, Hibs have to allow the new manager the chance to offer competitive wages to attract new recruits of a higher pedigree if they are to have any hope of satisfying their fed-up supporters.
Deeks, who scored more than 100 goals for Hibs and was the third-top scorer in the SPL era, believes that the new man at the helm must pay particular attention to ensuring the creative and goal-scoring department of the team is bolstered with quality recruits. “I think Hibs are going to have to invest in players if they’re to have a good chance of coming up,” said Riordan, who experienced the Championship first-hand during a spell with Alloa last season.
“It can be quite a scrappy league and sometimes it just comes down to who takes their chances so they’ll need to get good attackers in. They need players who can create and score goals. Last season, Hibs didn’t have the strikers to score goals and they never even had midfielders scoring goals. They just never looked like scoring.
“I liked Griffiths when he was at Hibs, he was always capable of scoring. Fans like players like that because they get excited when he gets the ball. They’ve not had that recently. I always set my targets around 20 goals, but the Hibs strikers recently just haven’t been scoring.
“Fans know good players when they see them and they get excited when they’re on the ball. When they see players who are playing with no confidence and don’t look like scoring, it creates a lot of negativity. Good players don’t come for nothing, so Hibs will have to invest if they want to go straight back up.”
Riordan’s former Hibs team-mate Ian Murray has emerged as the early front-runner to succeed Butcher as manager. Riordan would love to see his old mate make the step up from Dumbarton and land his dream job at Easter Road, but believes it would be unfair on any new Hibs manager to expect them to win promotion at the first attempt unless they are given an adequate budget to compete with Rangers and Hearts.
“Nid [Murray] knows the club inside out and he’d do a good job, but, whoever the manager is, Hibs need to invest and get a better quality of squad if they want to do well,” said Riordan, who is looking at pursuing his career in America.
“It’s going to be hard for Hibs next season in with Hearts and Rangers. Hibs will only be able to spend a certain amount so they need to spend it wisely.”