MICHAEL NELSON believes Hibs would have struggled to find a more inspirational character than Terry Butcher to take the reigns at Easter Road.
But the Hibs defender today stressed that the club’s players and supporters must also give their manager some time to make a real impression on his new squad.
Butcher was officially unveiled as the man to replace Pat Fenlon as Hibs boss earlier this week and expectations are high that the former England international could be just the man to bring the feel-good factor back to Easter Road.
The former Inverness manager comes with an impressive recent pedigree, having turned the Highland side’s fortunes around. A previous spell with Motherwell and a stint as Scotland assistant manager under George Burley in 2008 also added to his standing in the Scottish game.
Upbeat Hibs fans are convinced that this is the breaking of a new dawn, but Nelson warned that any necessary changes will take time.
“A new manager is always going to want to change some bits and pieces around”, Nelson told the Evening News. “The squad has been used to being together and to playing in a certain way, so it can take a bit of time for him to put his stamp on things. You never know, things might click straight away for the manager and we could hit the ground running.
“I certainly hope that is the case, but all of the players know that we are going to have to put in a lot of hard work out on the training pitch.
“The lads are all more than willing to put in the hours and the miles on the pitch to make sure we are getting things right, but I think that we all have to be a little patient and let everything settle down.”
Despite that cautionary note Nelson, too, is keen to see exactly what Butcher can achieve at Easter Road.
The Hibs fans have already doctored that memorable photograph of Butcher, soaked in blood and his head wrapped in a bandage in a World Cup qualifier against Sweden back in 1989, to make it look as though their new manager would bleed green if they were to cut him down the middle.
And, having witnessed the job that Butcher did at Caley, taking the Highlanders from rock-bottom to second-top of the Premiership table within the space of just a few years, Nelson is feeling positive above the Edinburgh club’s future.
“Everyone remembers the iconic picture of him playing for England, with the bloodied shirt and bandage around his head.
“I think that one stands out in most people’s memories.
“He’s a great man to bring in. Everyone saw the job he did at Inverness and everyone is really looking forward to seeing what he can bring to this club now.
“There’s only a quarter of the season gone and we’re just trying to improve every week. The manager will want to put his stamp on the team and we need to get into his way of thinking – and translate that out onto the pitch.
“We’ll see where it take us, hopefully it will bring us success, but we won’t know until nearer the end of the season. There’s no point in us setting targets of where we want to be then, we just need to get our heads down and work hard, do everything that we can.”
Nelson will return to training with his team-mates on Monday for the first time since suffering a horrific facial injury in the game against Celtic at the end of last month. The big defender fractured his cheekbone in three places as the result of a clash of heads with Celtic’s Amido Balde and had to have surgery to insert two metal plates, as well as have a mask constructed to protect the injury.
The mask – which he will have to wear for at least the next five weeks – will allow him to return to training with his team-mates on Monday, although he will not be allowed full contact for an extra few days. That will give him an outside chance of being selected for Terry Butcher’s first game in charge of the Easter Road side, against St Mirren in Paisley a week on Saturday.
Nelson said: “I was moulded up for the mask last week and was back at the hospital yesterday for my final fitting. I’ve only really had it on in fittings so I don’t know what it will feel like once I have got it on for real. It is a bit weird, obviously, but there are so many benefits.
“It is going to make such a huge difference because I will hopefully be able to join in with training again from the beginning of next week. I’ve been out for a little while now so it will be nice to be back with the rest of the lads and to get some kind of normality back again.
“It is a kind of perspex mask. They took an initial mould of my face and tried to get as close a likeness as they possibly can. It has to be a tight fit because it is held on by a strap round the back.
“It’s basically just clear plastic, it’s nothing fancy, no jazzy designs or anything like that, but hopefully it will do the job. I’ve to wear it until eight weeks after the operation. I had that three weeks ago now, so I still have another five weeks ahead of me.”
Nelson revealed that he knew he was facing a lengthy lay-off as soon as he suffered the injury and had asked about the possibility of a mask being fitted before he had even reached hospital for a scan: “As soon as I came off the pitch against Celtic and spoke with the physio we knew, just by looking at the side of my face, that there was going to be some kind of fracture there,” he continued.
“I think one of my first questions to the physio before we even got to the hospital was to ask if we could get a mask made.
“It was all about trying to reduce the length of time that I was going to be out and the hospital have kindly helped us on that front by making one up. That has speeded the process up a lot and I’m just desperate to get back into training now and stake a claim for a place in the new manager’s side.”
There probably couldn’t be a worse time for Nelson to have been ruled out.
Injuries are frustrating at any stage of the season, but, with Butcher only a few days into his reign at Easter Road, Nelson is champing at the bit for the chance to impress him.
“The new manager and his coaching staff have come in and have started to cast their eyes over the boys,” Nelson added. “They’ve taken a couple of training sessions, but I have been stuck over on another pitch doing some running and working with the physio by myself, so that has been difficult.
“I just want to be able to show the manager what I am all about, and not being able to be involved has been quite frustrating for me.
“I have managed to get finished and go over to have a look at what they’re doing and how he likes things done.
“Hopefully the manager will already know a bit about me – and I know that next week I should have a chance to get out on that training pitch myself. I am not allowed full contact for a little while, so I know that I won’t be able to be involved in everything, but as long as I can do enough to show him what I am capable of, then I’m happy with that.
“I had a week after the surgery where I basically had to do nothing, just let the swelling settle down and then the surgeon allowed me to do some training on my own.
“I’ve been in at the training centre all this week just working on my fitness and trying to keep myself ticking over.
“The physio has been working me pretty hard and I am slowly working back up towards my maximum with no effects or pain around the eye again.
“I’ve had no swelling or adverse reaction to anything that I have done so far, so it’s all good on that front.
“It’s a good sign that I am ready to work to my full potential without any ill effects, really.
“Now it is just a case of, wearing the mask of course, me joining in with the rest of the boys again and getting involved with everything they do – apart from the game side of it. I think that’ll be the case for another week and then I can train as normal.”
While the last few weeks – and perhaps the next few too, for Nelson – have been far from ideal, the player is well aware that this is an exciting time to be part of the Hibs squad.
“A new manager or coach always brings in fresh ideas,” he said.
“Obviously every manager is different and wants to play to what they feel their side’s strengths are and what they know works. They want to put their ideas across to the boys and feel that everyone is buying into it. They need everyone singing from the hymn sheet, so to speak.
“Hopefully that will be the case at Hibs and we can go on and experience some long-awaited success under the new manager.”
Michael Nelson and his Hibs team-mates are raising money for prostrate cancer treatment by sporting their facial hair and anyone who wishes to donate money can do so at mobro.co/hibees