Inverness Caley Thistle boss Terry Butcher today emerged as the early frontrunner to replace Pat Fenlon after the Irishman’s surprise decision to quit as manager of Hibs.
Having appeared to ride out the storm following a dismal start to the season, in which Hibs suffered a humiliating 7-0 Europa League defeat by Swedish club Malmo before losing the opening two games of the Scottish Premiership amid calls for him to be sacked, the 44-year-old again came under fire after his side were knocked out of the League Cup by impoverished Capital rivals Hearts in midweek.
Despite that result, Fenlon appeared defiant, insisting he didn’t feel under pressure only to announce less than 48 hours later he’d be leaving after almost two years in charge, declaring that taking himself out of the firing line would allow the club to move on under a new manager.
And as the hunt began for Fenlon’s successor, the Evening News understands former Rangers and England captain Butcher is highly regarded by the Easter Road hierarchy. The 54-year-old has been an influential figure at the Caledonian Stadium, assembling an impressive squad of players on a shoestring budget, which has improved the club’s standing season-on-season.
Last season, Caley finished fourth in the SPL, losing out on a place in Europe on the final day of the season. Although Inverness lost key players, including Welsh midielder Owain Tudur Jones who joined Hibs, over the summer, they have continued to be one of the new Scottish Premiership’s leading clubs this season.
Currently, they lie third and Butcher has guided them into the semi-finals of the League Cup.
Singapore-born Butcher enjoyed a glittering career as a player, winning the UEFA Cup with Ipswich Town before a £725,000 move to Ibrox, where he won three titles and two League Cups to go along with his 77 England caps.
Although his managerial career began slowly, sacked by both Coventry City and Sunderland before periods with Motherwell, Sydney FC and Brentford, it is in Inverness where Butcher has had most joy along with his assistant Maurice Malpas. He secured Caley’s return to the SPL in 2010 and since then the Highland club have gone from strength to strength. He rejected an offer to manager Barnsley in January this year, revealing he felt he could make history with the Highland club by guiding them into Europe.
While Butcher, who is due to bring Inverness to Easter Road next Saturday, is of interest, Hibs will also want to see which names come their way, well aware the high turnover of managers at Easter Road in recent years won’t deter applications.
Butcher’s name has found favour on fans’ message board Hibs.net, with a poll giving him 31 per cent of the vote, marginally ahead of former manager Tony Mowbray, who left Middlesbrough earlier this month.
Fenlon’s assistant Jimmy Nicholl is also likely to come into the running, as are former Killie boss Kenny Shiels, Peter Grant and Jimmy Calderwood. Ex-Hibs player Ian Murray’s promising start at Dumbarton hasn’t gone unnoticed, while Tranent-born Ian McParland, currently youth coach at Nottingham Forest, is believed to have made the short-list at Easter Road in the past.