Pat Fenlon today insisted he’d have quit as manager of Hibs even if he’d seen his side beat Hearts in the quarter-finals of the League Cup on Wednesday.
Claiming the decision to go was 100 per cent his, Fenlon revealed he believes that by taking himself “out of the firing line”, it will help remove the negativity which has enveloped Easter Road in recent weeks and allow the club to move forward with a new man at the helm.
While Ryan Stevenson’s goal provoked a furious reaction from fans with a spur-of-the-moment protest calling for Fenlon’s head following the final whistle, the Irishman was adamant quitting almost two years after succeeding Colin Calderwood had been in his mind since watching his players produce an inept performance against Aberdeen last weekend.
The 44-year-old said: “I’d been mulling it over since the Aberdeen game and then probably even in the last 24 hours, the last 12 hours, speaking to one or two people who are close and I have come to that decision.”
Fenlon disclosed his feelings to chairman Rod Petrie in a discussion which he insisted would remain private, although he did say: “I spoke to the chairman on Thursday, we had a conversation and I made my mind up. It was then a case of how we do it and when we do it. It was horrible, but that is football. It is horrible some times.”
Astonishingly, Fenlon took his players for training yesterday morning without mentioning a word of his intentions, determined that their entire focus was on Sunday’s Scottish Premiership game against Motherwell.
In fact, it was so closely guarded a secret that only minutes before his shock decision was announced, midfielder Owain Tudur Jones had addressed the pre-match press conference to declare he and his team-mates were “here to fight for him, there’s no question about that. We believe in him as a manager through working with him daily”.
Instead, the players will go to Fir Park under the guidance of Fenlon’s assistant Jimmy Nicholl who, when informed of what was to happen before the training session, attempted to talk him out of it without any success.
“Of course it was a very difficult decision,” said Fenlon, “I have been here a little while now and, to be honest, I love the place, but I have to be fair to everyone and I feel it was the right decision to make.
“I’m disappointed. This is a great club and it is really ready to kick on. I really believe that. When you are working in a place, you see that. When I came to the club, it was a difficult place to be, but I believe I am leaving it in a good place and that is a big part of my decision.
“Someone coming in is coming to a vibrant place with players that want to do well. If that is the case, and it happens, and we end up in a great position at the end of the season, then I will be proud feeling I played a part in that.”
Having said that, Fenlon admitted there was a temptation to stay in and effort to see the job through, but in quitting he fulfilled the promise he’d reiterated in the immediate aftermath of the latest derby defeat that, if he felt he’d taken the club as far as he could, then he’d step aside and hopefully see someone else enjoy success.
Asked what had changed since Wednesday night, Fenlon admitted he felt too much focus was being placed on him to the detriment of the club. He said: “I think there was a bit of that. After the other night, that came into my thinking a little bit, but from a football point of view, the other night didn’t come into it.
“That’s not a throw-away remark, I know how disappointed people were and I was bitterly disappointed, but I thought we played well in the game, particularly in the first half. The Aberdeen game was more disappointing for me than the Hearts game in relation to performance. It was probably the culmination of three or four games that I have not been happy with.
“It was nothing to do with pressure. I just think it was the right thing to do. I think, looking at it, I asked who I could take the club forward. I tried to do it on the pitch and I believe we have taken things forward. Now is the right time to let someone else have a go because this is a good place with good footballers.
“A lot of the anger is directed at me and rightly so, because I’m at the helm. I can understand the frustration of the supporters, so it is time to change that by taking myself out of the equation. There’s been a bit of negativity towards me and I felt that if I took myself out of the firing line, it will help everyone else.” While he conceded he might have some misgivings at quitting, Fenlon believes leaving voluntarily was the right thing to do. He said: “I would be easy to come in and say 100 per cent you are sure, but that’s football.
“It’s hard to make that decision, but I firmly believe it is the right decision to make in relation to the club and taking it on. It’s about the bigger picture. It’s not solely about me – if it was I would be sitting here talking about playing Motherwell at the weekend. It’s about making the right decision for everybody. There is the temptation to stay, but I believe this is the right time. It is the correct decision to step aside and let someone else have a go.
“I don’t have one bad word to say about the club – it has been enjoyable. It’s been tough and we have taken flak, I won’t lie about that, but it has made me a stronger man and will hopefully further my career.
“I certainly think the team can go further. I obviously don’t think I am the man to take it forward, but there is a hell of a lot more to come from these players.”