The Maurice Malpas effect shouldn’t be underestimated as Hibs begin their latest bid to assert themselves as a genuine force in Scottish football.
Most of the hype down Easter Road way over the past week or so has, understandably, surrounded the much-welcomed appointment of Terry Butcher as Pat Fenlon’s successor. However, the manager himself wasn’t slow to talk up the impact of his trusty right-hand man when, in his first press conference, he described Malpas emphatically as “the best coach in Scotland”.
This tallied with the words of former Hibs and Motherwell goalkeeper Graeme Smith, who, without prompting, told the Evening News last week that “Mo is just as important as Terry” to a partnership which has prospered at both Motherwell and Inverness.
For a club which has struggled to find the right blend in the dugout, with twice as many assistants (four) as managers over the past three years, it was imperative that Hibs landed an established management team who have already struck up a harmony.
Grant Munro, who worked under Butcher and Malpas during the first two-and-a-half years of their Inverness revolution, has no end of admiration for the assistant manager’s work in building up a Caley Thistle side which had hit rock-bottom by the time the highly-regarded pair replaced Craig Brewster in January 2009.
“Maurice did the majority of training at Inverness, which just shows how much trust Terry has in him,” said Munro. “He’s certainly up there as one of the best coaches I’ve worked under. You’d think Maurice would just be suited to the defensive side of coaching, but he was good for the strikers and the midfielders as well. His all-round coaching ability was very good. He got the best out of the boys, so it’s a good appointment from Terry to take him with him.”
Despite a couple of relatively unsuccessful managerial stints at Motherwell and Swindon Town, Malpas’ is widely respected for his work on the training field, not to mention a stellar playing career in which he collected 55 Scotland caps and established himself as Dundee United’s all-time record appearance holder.
“Players respect Maurice – you only have to look at his career. You listen to what he says and take it on board. He’s got a good sense of humour – he’s very quick-witted. He can make things light-hearted or as serious as he wants to. He’s a taskmaster. If things aren’t going well, he’ll let you know. If he sets a task up in training, you know he’s expecting a good standard and the boys know they have to live up to that.”
Such is the esteem in which Malpas is held in the Highlands, Inverness chairman Kenny Cameron offered him the manager’s job when it became apparent that Butcher was on his way to Edinburgh. The opportunity to hone his coaching skills at East Mains and remain in partnership with Butcher was always going to be too strong to resist.
“It was an uncomfortable week and when they still hadn’t agreed the compensation Kenny Cameron came to my house and asked me if I wanted to be manager,” revealed Malpas. “We had a fantastic discussion about it, but when I came to the club with Terry, we always said we would leave together, whether that was getting kicked out together or moving together. As soon as he said it was done and dusted, it was an easy decision for me.
“I want to be at a club that’s got a chance to win trophies. Caley Thistle have got a great chance this season, but I just felt the potential here is far greater. I’m a football guy who likes being on the training field and the facilities at Tranent here are unbelievable. If we can get the stadium here buzzing and full as well then that would be fantastic.
“With all respect to Caley Thistle, they couldn’t give me any of that. And it’s not anything to do with money. I’m back closer to my family as well, but it’s about the things here that Caley couldn’t give me. That’s why as soon as Terry asked me I said yes.
“It was flattering to be asked by Inverness. The chairman asked straight out if I wanted to be manager and virtually straight away I said ‘no’. I had been thinking about it, but I just felt that was the right decision. It was my gut feeling.
“The opportunity to come here was far greater than my desire to be a No. 1 again. The potential here appeals to me. The facilities excite me too. Some mornings up at Fort George you’re lifting goals and your hands would stick to the goalposts. I walked out my office this morning on to a training ground and I hadn’t done that in 20 years of coaching. That might seem simple and trivial, but it’s a massive thing to me.”
As well as carrying out the bulk of the coaching, Malpas feels one of his primary duties is to ensure morale remains high in the Hibs camp. “Part of my job is to go about the club annoying people and getting them to liven up,” he said. “It’s slightly easier to go around everybody at a club the size of Inverness, but I’ll try the same here. We’re all a big team. If a player’s unhappy, why is he unhappy? If they need help with houses, cars or whatever then that’s my job to know someone who can help them. We need office staff to help us, but we have to help them as well by making it a nice place to come and work with a good atmosphere. We like a carry-on. It’s about us; not just the players or management or admin staff – it’s Hibernian Football Club. The fans have a big part to play as well. They’ve got to come along and support us, although our players have got to give them something to cheer about. It’s chicken and egg stuff.”
Malpas knows many Hibs fans expect their team to play swashbuckling, free-flowing football, but the 51-year-old, having come through the ranks at Tannadice under Jim McLean, places more emphasis on the end result. “I hear people saying you’ve got to play the Hibs way, but for me it’s about playing to win. Jim McLean was the first person to drum into us about doing this or that, but you had to be a winner. You had to win the game, otherwise everything else was a waste of time.
“Why play well but get beat? That’s the mentality we’ve got to get into the fans, the players – it’s all about winning. There will be days when we’re flying and it’s great to watch. And there will be days when it’s absolute drivel but we still expect to win. That’s the mindset we’ve got to adapt here. If I hear any player say they can’t do it then they’ll get a Size 8 boot up the backside. I will do it.”