Some may view it as a poisoned chalice, but to Hibs legend Pat Stanton the situation vacant sign hanging over the manager’s door yet again offers someone the chance to bring the glory days back to Easter Road.
Stanton has looked on in sadness as John Collins, Mixu Paatelainen and John Hughes – all of whom like himself once wore the green and white shirt with pride – and now Colin Calderwood have come and gone in the space of barely five years.
But while a Hibs manager appears to have a short life span at present, Calderwood lasting barely a year in the hotseat, Stanton today insisted the job remains one of the most inviting in football.
And if the incoming boss faces an uphill task, Stanton was equally adamant the rewards can be great for the man who manages to turn Hibs’ fortunes around.
As a former Hibs manager himself Stanton, who can trace his links with the club all the way back to its first captain Michael Whelahan, knows all about the demands of taking the helm at Easter Road.
Adamant chairman Rod Petrie’s telephone will already be red-hot as interested parties rush to have their names noted, Stanton said: “Hibs are a big club, the expectations are high, a support which has suffered a few disappointments of late but one which is there just waiting.
“All the ingredients are there, a fantastic stadium and training facilities at East Mains which are the envy of many. It’s a great opportunity for someone, all it needs is the right man to come along, take the bull by the horns, give the place a shake and take it from there.”
Pinpointing the “right man” to succeed Calderwood, however, won’t be as straightforward as it might seem, Petrie and his fellow directors well aware that the pressure is on them following the managerial merry-go-round of recent years.
The Easter Road board no doubt felt they had done so in appointing Collins, Paatelainen, Hughes and Calderwood, their “due diligence” on each having convinced them that they were the best candidate at that particular moment.
Stanton has no doubts that Petrie and co are meticulous in their research when confronted with such a situation but, he insisted, that regardless of any individual’s CV, the success he’d enjoyed elsewhere as a player, coach or manager, and the conviction he “ticked all the boxes”, there still remained something of a gamble in making any managerial appointment.
Who will succeed Calderwood is now, of course, uppermost in the minds of all Hibs supporters and a topic which is sure to dominate tonight’s annual shareholders meeting at which Petrie in particular can expect some tough questioning over the club’s selection process.
But while Hibs have, in general, gone for younger managers in recent years, Tony Mowbray having preceded Collins, Paatelainen, Hughes and Calderwood, Stanton believes that perhaps now is the time to seek an older head, the constant changes, he argued, having a destabilising effect on the pitch at a club which is seen as one of the most stable off it.
The rapidity with which managers have headed for the exit door, according to Stanton, puts extra pressure on the next boss while Petrie will know the heat is on him in particular to ensure that by the time next year’s agm comes around the same topic isn’t at the top of the agenda again. Pointing out that a change in manager inevitably results in the squad being overhauled at no small cost and more uncertainty on the pitch as the new boss seeks to get his ideas of how he wants the game played across, Stanton said: “Hibs need a bit of stability, things need to settle down. I don’t think you can have any guarantees when you appoint a new manager, sometimes you get guys who have enjoyed a certain amount of success at a club and probably that’s the only club where they have had success.
“Perhaps now is the time for someone who has been over the course before to become Hibs manager, someone who has seen all the difficulties, has suffered his own disappointments, a man with a bit of experience.”
Although it had appeared inevitable Calderwood would lose his job – Saturday’s defeat by Dunfermline which prompted a spontaneous protest outside Easter Road making it 26 defeats in 49 matches for the former Spurs and Aston Villa star – Stanton insisted it was still sad to see yet another manager depart.
However, Stanton insisted Calderwood shouldn’t be made to shoulder the entire blame by himself, questioning the part some players had played over the course of what has been a miserable spell in the club’s history. He said: “It’s sad when a man loses his job, it’s not a nice thing but it happens, it is part of the game.
“But I think there were a few factors which contributed to it. The way things were going with us approaching December and the team still down there at the bottom of the league has you starting to wonder if we can get out of it. No matter which way you look at it, Colin’s record was not at all good. But I was at Saturday’s match against Dunfermline and what struck me about it was I couldn’t remember during the course of the game the referee having to tell a Hibs player to behave himself.
“I’m not condoning stepping out of line but some players would find it hard to take the way things were going and perhaps do something a bit rash.
“The worrying thing was there seemed to be an acceptance, a lack of a will to survive and that was the bit that annoyed me.
“You have to pull together, try to do something about it and that did not seem to be the case.
“It was the same at the Scottish Communities League Cup tie against Celtic. When they equalised you’d have thought by the reaction of the Hibs players they’d gone 2-1 down rather being on level terms.”
Stanton, though, agreed Calderwood had done himself few favours during the summer when he repeatedly refused to distance himself from speculation linking him with a move to either Nottingham Forest or Birmingham City.
He said: “Colin could quite easily have clarified things by saying he was the Hibs manager and was happy to be here, that would have gone a long way.
“When he didn’t the obvious answer was he prefers to be somewhere else and the fans picked up on that right away and felt they had a manager who did not want to be here.
“Hibs fans always get behind the club but it is very difficult when there’s that uncertainty which also feeds through to the players who start looking at you wondering how long you are going to be there.”
Not surprisingly, crowds at Easter Road have dwindled, fans voting with their feet but, Stanton insisted, they’ll soon flock back if the new manager can bring them even a measure of hope.
He said: “The Hibs fans are still there, they are not away to the moon. They are just waiting for a bit of encouragement to come back.”