John Doolan: Leaving Wigan amazed my peers

John Doolan, second left, had been  made first-term coach at Wigan by Uwe Rosler, far right

John Doolan, second left, had been made first-term coach at Wigan by Uwe Rosler, far right

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Uwe Rosler was baffled and bemused, struggling to comprehend the shock news his first-team coach John Doolan had just delivered, that he was quitting Wigan, a side highly fancied to clinch promotion to the English Premier League, for a team newly relegated to the Scottish Championship.

And Rosler wasn’t the only one at the DW Stadium to be left stunned by Doolan’s decision to join lifelong pal Alan Stubbs in Edinburgh after a concerted effort made to persuade the 45-year-old to have a serious rethink.

But Doolan’s mind was made up although, admittedly, he had given serious thought about turning his back on a club where he’d played in midfield before moving on to a career in coaching which had seen him work both at Everton and Liverpool’s academies, and in youth development at Wigan where he was so highly valued Rosler himself appointed him as first-team coach only a few months ago.

Little wonder, then, that the former East German internationalist was so keen to retain Doolan’s services, Wigan having reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup which they’d won a year earlier and only just missing out on an immediate return to the top flight after being beaten in the Championship play-off semi-final by Queens Park Rangers.

However, with the backing of his family, Doolan headed north, excited by the challenge of restoring a club left battered and bruised in the wake of that shock relegation, his decision, he insisted, vindicated by an immediate belief he’d made the right call even as he walked through the doors to Hibs’ East Mains training centre for the first time.

It’s a feeling which has strengthened with each passing day, Doolan clearly excited by what lies ahead, the opportunity to be in at the start of what he sees as a new era for the Easter Road club. “To be honest, it was a big decision,” he admitted. “I had a job at a club I am sure will push on to the Premier League this season. It wasn’t as if I was just going round the corner, down there my house is only 15 minutes away from the training ground. I had to discuss it with my family who all gave me their full backing.

“I just felt it was right, Alan himself has great ambitions on how he sees the club going forward. And for me the vibes just felt right straight away, it all had an unbelievable feel to it.

“To be fair, it’s a massive club, one with loads of history and with great potential. I don’t think anyone at Wigan expected it. I did get many phone calls asking if I was doing the right thing and I told them ‘Yes, 100 per cent’, I just had that feeling.

“Uwe did try to persuade me to stay as it was a big disappointment for him having appointed me first-team coach and there were other people who did their best to try to keep me. But at the end of the day, football is football. Wigan have a great manager and coaching staff, great players, international players, and I can see them back in the Premier League.”

While Hibs harbour the same ambition as Wigan – a return to top-flight football – Doolan is aware he has arrived at a time when the Edinburgh club is at one of the lowest ebbs in its recent history, the close season having been played out against a background of unrest with supporters rightly angry at the shambles the second half of last season descended into, culminating in relegation and the sacking of manager Terry Butcher.

Doolan fully appreciates the reasons for such disquiet, but insists a new era is dawning with everything being geared up to bring future success to the club.

He said: “I’ve heard about it from the players and others at the club, but that is in the past. This is a new era. The lads will be given the freedom to express themselves on the pitch, while we have to make sure things are right off the pitch and the club are working hard to do that.

“We will come in and try to be as positive as possible, working to get the success everyone wants. I used to come up to Celtic Park when Alan was playing there and the support was frightening.

“Like the two big teams in Liverpool, fans in Scotland are football crazy and you can see why. There are some big clubs up here and we just want to get back into that top division.”

If Doolan’s own gut feeling needed reinforcing it came by way of text messages from Wigan’s Scottish contingent, led by former Hibs captain Gary Caldwell. Doolan, a former team-mate of now Everton boss Roberto Martinez at Wigan, said: “Whenever they heard I’d taken the position at Hibs Gary, Shaun Maloney and Fraser Fyvie were all telling me this is a fantastic club with a great support and that we just need to get things going again.”

And as someone immersed in youth coaching, Doolan admitted he is excited at the prospect of working at a club renowned for nurturing home-grown talent. He said: “My background is developing youth players, I’ve worked at both Everton and Liverpool’s academies. I played alongside Roberto when he came across to Wigan as a player and we had the same vision, playing nice, attractive football but ultimately winning games.

“This club has produced year on year in terms of young players and it won’t stop here when you see the talent on display at Vale of Leithen at the weekend such as Alex Harris and Sam Stanton. We’ve mixed the youth with the first team in training and you can see there’s quality there.”

If Doolan is something of an unknown commodity to Hibs supporters, he and Stubbs enjoy a close relationship built on their days kicking a ball together on the streets of Kirby but, he insisted, that doesn’t mean the pair won’t be afraid to fall out with each other.

He said: “Alan and I literally lived round the corner from each other.

“I was the skilful one with all the talent, the technical player, Alan was the bully at centre half! Strangely, though, we never played against each other. I think the closest we came was at Burnden Park when he was with Bolton and I was at Wigan. I’d started the match and he was a sub but as I was coming off with an injury he was coming on.

“We go back a long way but it won’t be an old pals’ act. We won’t be afraid to say when we think the other is wrong.

“We’re both here to do a job, a professional job, and when we get things right on and off the pitch then the players, the club and supporters will get the success we all want.”