Spanish coach Antonio Tapia has applied to become the new boss at Easter Road after being sold on Hibs during an Edinburgh derby, the Evening News can reveal today.
The 53-year-old, a one-time sporting director to current Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga, was among the fans in May as the Hibees fought back to win the Tynecastle clash with a spectacular Leigh Griffiths free-kick and a last-gasp strike from Ross Caldwell.
And now Tapia, a long-time fan of British football, believes the surprise departure of Pat Fenlon could open the door to a new career for him in Scotland.
He does, however, recognise he’d be arriving as something of an unknown and faces tough competition to convince Easter Road chairman Rod Petrie he’s the man with Inverness Caley boss Terry Butcher, as exclusively revealed by the News within 24 hours of Fenlon’s exit, at the head of a steadily growing list of candidates.
While Petrie has refused to comment on speculation for the role – Kenny Shiels, Peter Grant, Tony Mowbray, Ian Murray and Fenlon’s assistant Jimmy Nicholl, who took the team as they lost 1-0 to Motherwell at Fir Park yesterday, have all been linked with the job – he did insist he and his board will take their time to “get the right guy.”
Although he had a modest playing career, Tapia has been coaching for almost 30 years and has held a series of managerial posts, althogh he was sacked from his last two at Tenerife and Real Betis. Much of his best work, however, took place at Malaga where he was latterly sporting adviser to Pellegrini before the Chilean made his own move to Britain.
Confirming Tapia’s CV has been forwarded to Petrie, a close confidant of the Spaniard said: “Antonio has been a long-time fan of British football and came over last May to watch Celtic against St Johnstone and, the following day, Hearts against Hibs at Tynecastle and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the atmosphere, the passion of the fans.
“He recognises he’s something of an unkown character over here but he has been coaching in Spain for more than 25 years, he’s worked at the top level and he’s got a good repuation for working with young players. Antonio has also been improving his English on a daily basis.
“All his information has been forwarded to Hibs and he’s ready to jump on a plane at a minute’s notice to meet the club’s representatives.”
Inverness Caley boss Butcher, though, remains the firm favourite to succeed Fenlon who quit on Friday although Petrie insisted: “I am not going into any names. It’s important that we take our time and get the right guy.”
Petrie’s comments suggest that Easter Road fans might have to wait until after this weekend’s match - coincidentally against Caley in Edinburgh – for Fenlon’s successor to be named, a two-week international break offering him and his fellow directors some breathing space as they seek yet another manager.
Meanwhile, Nicholl, who insisted he wants to stay despite Fenlon’s exit, revealed he failed in a bid to persuade the Irishman to change his mind saying: “I tried to talk Pat out of resigning for a good length of time and I thought I had him. But deep down I could see the relief in him once he had made his decision.
“Can I understand his reasons? No, and I told him I thought he was going for the wrong reasons. But then when you watch the interview after he announced he was leaving, you can see the weight coming off him.”