George Craig: Role will allow Stubbs to flourish

Hibs director of football operations George Craig
Hibs director of football operations George Craig
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So who, then, is in charge? Alan Stubbs as head coach or George Craig in the newly- created role of head of football operations? The answer is simple. Neither of them – the pair both answering to Hibs’ new chief executive Leeann Dempster.

In a far-reaching reorganisation at Easter Road, Stubbs and Craig will work hand-in-hand, but with distinctly differing responsibilities, which are intended to complement each other to strengthen the club at all levels.

Stubbs’ remit is clear, to rebuild and create a team not just capable of returning the Capital club to the Scottish Premiership, but one which can compete at the top end of that league, a task made all the more formidable by the presence this season in the Championship of both Hearts and Rangers.

It is an obvious, but short-term goal. Craig’s part will not just be to help Stubbs in that regard, but to use the experience gained from leading the review and restructure of the SFA’s Club Academy Scotland elite player development programme, where he worked closely with performance director Mark Wotte, to build the foundations for long-term success at Easter Road.

Craig, who also spent seven years in a senior executive position at Falkirk, has already begun implementing the changes he believes are necessary, the ultimate aim being bringing the best coaching syllabus, scouting network, individual development programmes, sports science and performance analysis into the club.

Stressing repeatedly and emphatically that he is not a “director of football”, Craig said: “Everyone understands the importance of having a manager, but maybe what is expected of the manager is just a wee bit too much. Yes, we expect him to win football matches and look after the first team, but maybe there’s been a tendency for that to become an almost over-arching role over the whole football operation.

“At a club the size of Hibs, that operation is quite extensive, going all the way through elite performance, the academy down to very early recruitment and development of each academy player as he comes through.”

Craig argues leaving the entire responsibility on the manager’s shoulders is simply asking for trouble. Accepting there’s nothing wrong with him having an interest and involvement in the academy, he added: “If that person is expected, to manage the entire process do not be surprised when actually their main job suffers.”

Equally, though, Craig insists if football clubs simply sit back and expect their academies to provide a conveyor belt of young talent, then it won’t happen. He’s adamant talent has to be identified and nurtured from an early age, the most crucial stage being the transition from the academy to the first team.

He said: “Someone like Wayne Rooney makes that transition almost seamlessly purely on ability, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Most young players need to be developed in a number of ways to equip them properly to take their place in the first-team squad. That is a key part of the football operation before we get to the first team.

“If that’s not structured and coordinated in a strategic way, then there’s a danger there’s not a clear focus and we could end up making an investment in the development of young players and not getting the output – appearances in the first team. That’s what your academy should be doing as an absolute minimum – preparing, identifying and developing young players. From that you are looking to develop a number of them who have 
potential to play at the very top of the game.”

Getting it right from the grass-roots up will, hopefully, reap many benefits for Hibs in years to come, but Craig is also acutely aware of the pressing need for results – and quickly – at first-team level.

“We can’t have a plan that sees Hibs as a long-term Championship club,” he agrees, “Clearly, we have a short term-challenge on our hands. We need to recruit and get a team prepared and ready to go and gain promotion.”

To that end, no detail is too small to escape Craig’s attention. Strength conditioning, diet, nutrition, performance analysis, extensive warm-ups and cool-downs all among a myriad of factors being brought into play with a determination that Stubbs will have the best possible support team around him in addition to assistant Andy Holden, first-team coach John Doolan and goalkeeping coach Alan Combe.

Craig said: “These people have existed in football for a long time, but, if you don’t support that skill and get the value from it, there’s an argument to say you’re maybe better not to have it. It’s not just a case of bringing in people with skills but allowing them to apply their skills to derive value.

“Leeann has recruited both Alan and me to concentrate on two different aspects of the football operation, but very much to support each other and work together to be successful.

“Over the next few months you will find other appointments will be made. We are looking at different aspects of the football operation in a support sense. Alan and his team take care of the players’ technical and tactical ability, the game plan, the shape of the team. If they do that bit, my job then is to actually say, ‘right, what other elements of this operation do we need to support to make it as good as possible.”

To that end, Craig uses the way in which Britain has become the predominant force in world cycling as an example of how natural talent working in tandem with such a support network can succeed.

Lottery funding did help as Craig acknowledges in winning the Tour de France two years in a row and to turn the Olympics into a “procession of gold 
medals”. But, he added: “More importantly, they took a strategic decision to appoint a performance director. Someone to say to Chris Hoy, ‘you can ride a bike better than most, but what can we give you that will give you the edge over the opposition’. They came up with a 0.1 per cent improvement over a range of disciplines within their sport. If they could do that and add it together to make one per cent they reckoned that was what was needed to take someone like Chris, for example, from where he would likely have got to being the best in the world.

“Apply it to football and it’s the same principle. There’s no doubt the majority of the teams we will come up against will have these things in place. What we have to do is ask can we be smarter, can we do things differently to get that edge. That’s back to Chris Hoy going from silver to gold.”